These pre-Appalachian hills
like tree-covered breasts and hips,
seduce us, make us lust for horizons,
the radio hissing salvation songs
over the road noise. Out past the city
there are billboards listing our sins
and every few miles, a tobacco patch
fading from green to yellow, waiting
to become second hand smoke
creeping like vampiric mist
up into our windows,
if we keep our windows open.
The streets smolder like discarded
cigarette butts, and the ghettos
hide like ashes scattered from their ends,
but if you look you’ll find them drifted
into the cracks of pavement, a newspaper
caught around the base of a lamp post,
fluttering like a moth, next to the gray
charred face of someone missing from
a family photo, a scrap piece of cardboard
strung about his neck like the sign
nailed above Jesus’ slumped head.
Somewhere in the periphery of senses,
a siren wails, like a baby being born,
slowly handed up to that vacuum of moon.
Someone exhales their last smoke
beneath the sleeping cranes, the wrought iron
skeleton frames of sarcophagi reaching
toward heaven with arms made of glass,
that final breath a whispered prayer
that the rain is never enough
to flood the downtown bars again.
Nashville, TN #2
Downtown is for tourists,
people looking for Elvis,
people carrying shopping bags
full of shot glasses
inscribed with guitars,
shirts that say “Music City,”
people who might walk onto
a movie set from the sixties,
the faux store fronts and saloons,
and feel like they are in the Old West.
The neon signs hiccup and cough with light
like they’re dying of tuberculosis,
while the sounds of bad karaoke
drool out the doorways of bars,
amid the endless bubble
and fizz of heels on the walk,
flashbulbs flicker for poses
of ghosts beside ghosts,
a blind man plays drums
made of coffee cans
and listens for the jingle
of his next bottle
hitting the tip jar,
while another man
strums a nameless acoustic
and beats an old cliche to death
with his bearded desperation.
The alleys smell like sewage
and the beer-breath of bums,
the cobblestone streets caked
with the vomit of excess,
foundations made from the sweat
of singers dressed in sequins,
their boots squeaking in time
on the polished hardwood stage,
voices of deceased gospel choirs
ringing like an out of tune
pedal steel left in the rain,
the whole city’s just a palm
asking for your change.
Nashville, TN #3
Here’s a homeless man
walking out into the road
like his hip is a piggy bank
and passing cars are
His shoelaces are pink,
his face a grizzly peach
of pockmarked sun,
a horrible grin of piano keys
hovering above a yellow smock
stuffed with newspapers.
One dollar. One dollar.
One dollar is all he needs,
to stash in his hip,
to solve the housing crisis,
to touch the outstretched hands
from car windows
like a leper messiah,
to feel like security
is as contagious as air conditioning.
is a guitar with one broken string,
still capable of music,
yet unable to hit all the notes.
This city is the last swallow
of beer that no one wants,
mostly backwash and warm.
This city is a drunk driver
with a record player
instead of a steering wheel.
Sleeping bags are garbage bags,
a begging sign more pitiful
with a few misspelled words.
The sun has arthritis and nerve damage,
the river has a hangover and stinks
like dead animals and piss.
This city is an overripe peach
left on an anthill,
one bite missing.
What to do during a tornado:
Imagine yourself as light as smoke,
listen for the sound of a sky
digging its nails into the world,
learn to breathe air through a straw.
Hold on to walls and roofs
like each nail is a hair in your scalp,
but remember, baldness can be distinguished,
while throwing a mattress over a newborn.
Dig your own basement beneath
the graves of lost pets, dig it with a crucifix
found in the rubble like a sign
from an insurance salesman.
Lie in a ditch and clutch the grass and weeds
into fists, twisting the telephone poles up
like brittle sticks, rain turning into gravel
into glass into rain.