Coatsleeves. Weeping brick. So the sky kicks down
its cold doors. The woman next door saying
something. Nothing, baby. Nothing,
he says back. I don’t know one thing
about that. The river ice, the sky ice, a boy’s face
ice-wracked: red as flowers, his blood big.
His mother? Where is she? Next door:
Baby, please? You want a cigarette? Baby? Now
like wet factory smoke the dark falling. How smoke
is evidence. How nothing’s
burning. So streetlight. So black hat. Your breath
riding the wind’s bad back down the pocked alley,
up the gin store’s grim bricks, and up, up
the cloud-laddered sky, the stone bluffs east of town—
then to break, fade like common smoke. Up there: big
houses and burr oaks in their vestal robes of snow. Down
here: ropes of icy rain. Sumac’s frozen, broken fingers. Down
here: a man opening a door into some kind of life,
saying, Baby. Baby, I think I’ll step out.
Get me some cigarettes. You want something? Baby?
Copyright © Joe Wilkins
Used with the permission of the author
on behalf of Poetry Northwest.