Vox Populi

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Richard St. John: A Blessing in Baltimore

You must take another way….  –  Inferno I


 The old South Boston Aquarium stands

 In a Sahara of snow now.   – For the Union Dead


 The seventh apartment was closely shrouded

  in black velvet tapestries…. – The Masque of the Red Death


Tomorrow, following the christening

of your adopted son, I’ll take some time

to see the National Aquarium.

I’m writing this because a poem

is all I have by way of gift

and I find that what I mean to write

isn’t just about your sudden life

as parents of a multi-racial son,

but about the Baltimore – as place, yet more

than place – that you’ll be living in.

Each time I come

I watch the fish spin round and round

the great, illuminated, multi-story tank.

Silver and gray-green, like currency in wind,

they flicker, each according to its kind.

Sea bass, mackerel and halibut,

they speed and spiral:  Ceaseless.  Sleepless.

Oblivious.  Intent.  Outside, the buses

idle at the curb. Boarding visitors

recall the banners, glass pavilion shops and food

of festive, redeveloped Baltimore.  It’s sad,

a kind of spiral in: how people mill around

this tidy city built for them to see,

less like a city than a mall back home,

and still believe in it, don’t find it false

or feel some loss.

In contrast, your adoption was

a movement outward: legal papers

and your signature, a costly, wavering blue line

deployed in ordinary ballpoint pen,

recorded with the deeds at Houston’s courthouse,

while you stepped out, an infant at your arms,

into that huge and foreign sky, its great

piled waterstacks of cloud, so open and so high.

To visit you we cross Antietam Creek.

Pale companies of leaves plaster the water

and drift to the Potomac, past the battlefields

where both sides lost.  They dapple

the entry porticos of gated towns

and sprinkle the swing-sets and fall upon

a child’s sneaker in a private lawn.

They flicker like a dream among

the mortgage tax-deductions and the infrastructure bonds.

They gather in the swales along the Interstates

and by the wheelstops in the shopping center lots.

They spiral through the subdivided farmlands

that the Army of Northern Virginia

could not save.  Then, at last, float down

to segregated Washington.

We drive on

through failing twilight into Baltimore.

Baltimore, that border town and sometime home

to Douglass, Poe and Key.  Even from a distance

we can see the halo over Camden Yards.

The Orioles have won again, it seems, and as we drive

the post-game fireworks appear – to us

like brittle, shattering chrysanthemums,

but to the ticket-holders in the stands

like overarching and fantastic rooms

of blue, then purple, green, orange, white and violet

and then – b-bang-b-bang bang-boom –

a room of black.  I imagine all those human faces

looking up.   Then the ghostly crowd, the parking lot

(Black street-kids rove among the rows of cars),

the doors unlocking and the keys, the silent engines

flaring up and driving home.  The smoke –

like one of Poe’s uneasy dreams – descends

upon the darkened and divided town.

Tomorrow, at a polished and ornate

baptismal font, you’ll set apart your son

from all the principalities and powers of dark.

But there, in the sunny transept, with the flowers,

with the stolid congregation dressed to please,

where the rector dips his thumb and makes

the watery mark on Gibson’s forehead, the powers

are gathered in the room.  It’s not that vestments

or the people in their suits and floral prints

are bad.  Yet they can form a narrow circle

like the font’s dark wood – a circumscription

savage, harsh and dense, and filled with temptations

to protect and shield.

So, what can I

who haven’t come so far or risked as much,

possibly say to you, to guide or bless?

I’ll give you only my imagined picture

of a place.  There, women lean across

the fences of the tiny yards – to mark a union

or to mourn a loss. Their small, unconsecrated plots

enclose some beaten soil, a strip of vegetables

or, maybe, blue forget-me-nots.  A tap runs.

And, through the humid evening air, you hear

the dishes sloshing in a sink next door.

On summer afternoons, the neighborhood cascades

down low front stoops, along the baking rowhouse block.

A small patrol of dogs sniffs trash. And children

chase each other on the street and walks.

Someone with a wrench has turned a hydrant open

and the kids converge. The shirts and shoes fly off.

The water froths – anarchic and impure

and shared – and all the taxpayers’ money

overflows the gutters and the broken curbs.

From Each Perfected Name by Richard St. John (Truman State). Reprinted in Vox Populi by permission of the author.

2 comments on “Richard St. John: A Blessing in Baltimore

  1. greg thielen
    August 21, 2017

    This is beautiful. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. John Tieman
    August 21, 2017

    Beautiful poem, Richard.

    Liked by 1 person

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This entry was posted on August 21, 2017 by in Poetry, Social Justice and tagged , .

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