What's Left (Al-Mutanabbi Street)

Katrina Roberts

Tracery

Not nostalgia but the bluer salt of longing, not sentiment but the smutted sky raining bitter sediment, not our winding blunder down into that wound, not the ash-riddled grotto nor the blood-orange blown-open

Not the mineral rash’s voice dubbed across the final unspooling reel, not that, whatever promise the book held, not what she said or he did or they might next, not that, nor a flitter of birds, hands—lifting a cup, flipping a page, tucking a strand, nor the ear, behind which, filling with each sweet rising note or tinkling descent

Not the delicacy of a single wish, nor the now-cracked face of a once-ticking, once-pocketed watch


Stitch

No filament long enough

No longer meshing, days before and those after, teeth of a zipper left to gape

An idling car, a parked pick-up, who hides in plain light who hides and why, cloaked in a troubled forest of unsayable tint

And which human desire does this resemble, which cosseting vest to cross the heart, which chilled sweat, which strait-jacketed vestment, which surely-numbing drone between temples


Resist

Faith in what

No walls, no shelves

No end to the well’s filling, the far-away sea’s waxy surge in a hole dug by anyone no matter, a relentless urge to pick the itch, the ooze, the scab, the meniscus of every hour finally spilling over, over, over

Nothing
But sound, but imprinted air
No end to the fraught tingle of phantom-limbs forever-after-not-but-there


Scar

Splinters the alley’s new stuttering currency, pocked, crumbling, indiscriminate coinage of returning light, triage of needling memory, a narrow strait to navigate, some beast, uneasy passage of meat into pure spirit, and every anguished ether-shard hive-swarming then hushed

Not silent but charged:  listen...

Every letter, accounted for but in a different more urgent order

More by Katrina Roberts

Want

A man walks into a 
museum in Paris, the Museum
of Natural History, to saw
 
a tusk off an elephant-
skeleton centuries-older than  
he’ll ever be, becoming

in those early morning hours  
part of a derelict and
inglorious human history,
 
while swallows darn the air
in loops, their glinting wings  
an origami of hushed folds

only glimpsed by one vigilant 
girl, framed as she is within
a pane of glass, the door of her

heart opening onto a filigreed
balcony that keeps her  
suspended, an unlikely wish

about someone not coming
back. A man walks. A man
walks into a bar. “Whaddya

want?” Dusty continent
of desire. Majesty left as ragged
meat in heaps for hyenas

“laughing” in heat. Who can look
away? A man sets rough
elbows heavy on the lip

of zinc, thumbs each cheekbone
so his pointers steeple to catch
his brow, shuts eyes, heaves a sigh

then slumps to rest an unshaven cheek
against the cool, unquestioning
bar, as though to sink

into what’s most elemental. What’s
“natural” about any man
making his way alone

through empty Left Bank streets
carrying not a lovely burnished box
of watercolor paints in uniform

lozenge-cakes but a chainsaw? 
The wheeling sky sees all
while sleepers sleep, still

dreaming in languages long lost
when day breaks. The pinking sky
sees all, but rarely speaks

though someone more Romantic
might say it weeps. And the sleepless
girl, orphaned by light, the bright

tusk of her hopes. The joke
no joke, no punch-
line, but a gut-punch in plain sight.
 

Rendition

If “truth is a fire,” as Klimt scrawled on a sketch for his
painting Nuda Veritas, “and to speak truth means to shine and
to burn,” then I’m a spent firework, blown-open, hollow, grime-
smeared and left for a wandering child—to pick from
hardened sand, or to wash out to sea. I’m so tired, and tired
of sitting on my hands. This morning I couldn’t stop watching
a two-minute clip of a slow loris eating rice balls, lost in his
savoring of some inaudible tune. Or, maybe I should say I noted         how
his Gothic strangeling eyes rose to meet, then veer away, from
those unseen in the frame of one whose fingers offered the                  sticky white
grains. It was how his elegant hand curled from within
the box where he hid, and how his ease seemed to grow as he            chose
to lift each gleaming ball to his ready mouth. Only yes-
terday I learned of laws amended to let witnesses to executions         by
injection see, albeit over closed-circuit TV, the sterile affront
of IV-lines entering arms of inmates, though ID of injectors              “won’t
be revealed.” In most states, there’s a 3-drug combo; the                       second’s
a paralytic agent… Here, you get a one-step option, or the                   choice
to hang. Hanging? Does anyone choose to hang? The slow loris
again is reaching his dark plush arm toward me on the screen,             and now
his tongue darts out in satisfaction, though perhaps I’m                       imposing
human emotion, and instinct makes him simply take care
of hygienic concerns. My people are mostly furred or plumed.
On death row, is hope a “thing with feathers”? Anesthetized,
I could watch the slow loris all day taking gifts from a stranger’s
hand. The last time I saw my father, before he chose to leave
the country, he held the newspaper and a faceted glass jar
of raspberry jam toward me; and his hands quavered the way                hands
of the elderly do. Did he see this himself?  Did he worry
about journeying south, despite frailty of shoulder, hip, the                  haze
of continual pain? I wanted to say, don’t go. I’m still replaying
the loop of his shaking. And then, as in slow motion, this once-
massive man took the glazed concrete steps one-by-one,                      checking
his balance on each, taking leave of me, moving gingerly
away—into the stunned, crystal day, all alone.