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On East Carson Street, skinny white boys
Slump in front of tattoo parlors
Scratching their arms. Girls
In short skirts take long pulls
On cigs, stand in groups
Smiling at the men who drive by
Hungry and shy…the realm
Of the hungry ghosts the Buddha
Calls it. I don’t know anything
About anything. But I once saw
A guy hit another guy
Over the head with a chair
And a cop with thick wrists
Put handcuffs on the brawler
And haul him off. And I saw
The bartender stomp the broken chair
And throw the sticks
In a dumpster in the alley
Where a junkie was shooting
Heaven in his tattoos.
My son wasn’t any of these guys.
He was the carpenter in the bedroom
Of an empty house down the street
Nailing a one by four to a two by four
Reinforcing a stud in a wall
That’s seen better days.
His long fingers hold the nails
And he swings the hammer
From his shoulder for more force.
My son was born blue. His shoulders
Were so wide, he got caught on the slide
Into the light. Or maybe
His long dark hair got caught
In the instrument listening
To his heart. Or maybe
He just didn’t want to start
This long difficult walk
To oblivion. But whatever
The reason, I know he was stuck
In the birth canal and when
He came into the light
The midwife massaged his chest
Until he gasped. And now, when I look
At his beautiful hands
Which can drive a four-inch nail
Into a board with two wacks,
I think of his small hands
Twenty seven years ago,
Opening and closing
As he took his first breath.
I don’t know anything about Jesus
But I’m happy my son
Doesn’t live on the street anymore.
Walking down Carson Street
I saw a beaten down boy
Begging for spare change,
But it wasn’t my son. I saw
A young man hand a small bag
Through a darkened car window
And the slim hand of a woman
Pass cash to him,
But he wasn’t my son. I don’t know
Anything about Hell, but I’ve seen
A junkie sitting on the sidewalk
His knees pulled to his chin
Staring at nothing — just the feet
Of people walking by,
Trying hard not to look at him.
From American Ash by Michael Simms (Ragged Sky Press, 2020). Copyright 2020 by Michael Simms
Jose Rosado Hand Portrait
This one taps the heart, like an SOS ticked out in Morse Code, proving our commonality can be simpler than the blipping dots and dashes, or the staccato four-beat timing of DNA: And an A and a G and a C and a T.
The heroin epidemic continues to hit this region (Appalachia, Pittsburgh…) very hard, but we seem to be through the worst of it.
So deep. Such ardent love..
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Thank you, Laure-Anne!
What a touching poem, Mike! Thank you for this. It got to me, as we say.
Michael, nice. This is painful, and sweet. Close to home. It feels like the drug epidemic has a bullet for every one of us, one way or another.
Thanks, Dan. I agree.
Oh, My God! Michael! This is A POEM!!! THANK YOU! Who said, “No tears for the writer; no tears for the reader.”? Crying. Merci, mon ami, Billy 🙂 xo ❤ Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; it does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge. Toni Morrison, Nobel Lecture in Literature, 1993
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Beautiful work, Michael. In particular, the rhythms are wonderful.
What a powerful poem. Thank you, Michael.
You know about Jesus. He was the voice in your ear telling you to save your son.
Thank you so much Michael Simms for this sad and very beautiful poem !
Brilliant poem, Michael.
Sent from my iPad
Perhaps it’s the timing of this post, the day after the horror in NC, but I wept for every soul referenced, including the courageous author. That’s good writing. Thank you.
Sorry – horror in VA
Thank you, Pat!
poignantly beautiful, for I too have witnessed and my heart as known the mystery of it all..
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