On tiptoes, a stretch, a groan to reach
the top shelf nights.
Twisting metal off glass to open
wet feet, jumping over puddles of
mirrored sky choked in wires.
Chasing cabs in the dark with music spilling from
restaurants and clubs, a celebrated clatter of song.
The heady, summer, city night
filling space with ripen possibility.
The face and teeth of familiar strangers
captured in gutter art.
The perfect stillness of elongated lights in a boozy backwash.
Damp fingertips held to the stars,
howling in packs.
The don’t-give-a-fuck types:
heads out the window,
wildebeests, watching the curl of a breath,
Until a wheel shatters the canvas,
spitting muddy sediment from rubber soles
that walked abroad, shuffling down streets
of pavement and poverty,
mountains and ice,
and I wipe away the nights that were never my own,
but colored the skin under my nails.
The flesh of another life
when I was raw or cheated
or would shank the person I am, or was.
Loosen the lids on the desert nights.
The dreamer’s delight.
Wrapped in heated silence and coyote cry,
layered in thorny stars,
tracing mountains in crayons with midnight in the name
dug in for the build of a waxy glaze,
the rise and fall of a pulse I come back to
Nights I walked along the earth’s edge with a moon casting a leash,
kicking sand along the shores,
scattering unworthy desires and hopes,
but the sea gives no mind,
lapping, turning a creation for the next passenger.
The kind that holds the ocean’s breath and dulls transparency,
the sentimental slick used to polish and shine
the vain reflection of oneself,
until only the layered beauty remains, with all its
ugly raw danger.
The nights abroad.
Pulled by the yawn of an accordion, shouted vowels,
the snuffed embers of cigarettes and ruins.
Where lung yellow street lamps hung over cobblestone alleys,
and clotheslines sagged with damp linens seen on portraits or postcards,
with red geraniums hiding unpaid bills and toilet mold.
Or a Central American jungle.
Where every night was a rebirth,
woken by the roar of the howler monkeys and drill of insects,
blind of any color until my eyelids disappeared,
rewarded in morning when I would be swaddled
in green along with the shanties, unwashed children,
stray dogs and the sweet simplicity of inhaling
a shared country not my own.
Sealed nights with dust.
Shoved in shadows.
No punctures holes on these.
Too easy to lay in a welcoming darkness.
These jars turn their own lids.
Erupting at odd times.
Teeth brushing, toe nail clipping.
The bouncing ball in an empty spray can.
Rattling the sour exhale of infection spiked with Ivory soap.
The sound of a final breath.
How I raced to greet the last two hours of your life.
Watched your eyes flicker behind closed lids.
Uninvited to the movie playing backward and forwards.
I was the clean up crew.
The one who sweeps popcorn and roots around
cushions for papery, soiled remains.
Stripping a bed of death and disease.
Rolling sheets with your last scent.
Until we buried those nights.
Until our eyes swelled shut.
Until it was safe again.
Some nights my lips linger on the faces of my children.
Their skin full with youth, sticky with toothpaste and sweet cream.
And I am drunk with love, perfumed with berries,
left with a swollen gratitude and a lingering, hopeful ache,
their hair tangled with sun and grass,
their fingers curling around doorknobs that slip in grown palms.
I can almost see the room with all the halls.
How I wish I could be the catcher on the other side
living in a field of rye,
even knowing you will outrun me. You must.
Some nights I rest on my lover’s chest,
listening to the drumbeat,
amazed it’s not my own
begging him to find me in every life
or I will refuse to return,
to settle for anything less.
I will know him by the words kept inside his body.
I will hear its winged language.
These half-stocked shelves are filled
with summer, cicadas, ocean carved conches and death.
Some nights they collide and break off,
dispersing like fireflies
and I spend time,
a pensive librarian,
pulling one down
when my memory may slip
and my skin darkens like a fallen leaf.
Some nights there is only sound.
Some nights a face.
Some nights I shut the lights
and there are no lids on any.
Those are the nights I am most myself.
S S Hicks
Prompt: What’s in your jar? Courtesy of Margo Roby: Wordgathering.