—for George Shelton

Sometimes everything feels like a trick.
Some days things seem to have been stolen from you.
Cash to pay the bills, your sense of humor, friendship.
You could almost believe those are what you look for
as you walk around your neighborhood. But, no, instead, you get
splashes of zinnias against stucco, cactus wrens,
a pack of kids who ignore the sodium amber streetlights
which just stuttered on, because it means their mothers
want them home right this minute. And, on the corner variety
store’s wall, a crude, sun-washed mural of the angel Gabriel
defaced by thick black sideburns so he looks like a street punk,
a strutting cholo, so he seems the only creature on earth
who hasn’t heard the news that everything can be lost.
His strong upper arms curving naked and graceful
as the tan thighs of a slender, athletic girl.
A girl he’s after, though she’s gotten bored waiting
on the stoop and watching the sun set behind the foothills.
Sky reddening until it slams into a blue that blesses
anyone oblivious to all the negations,
including the one, pal, where you think it’s possible
to step out of your heart and leave it empty as
an egg shell or a cardboard box.

When you finally return home
the tint of sky more or less matches the flash
of a thrush as it swoops from limb to branch,
acacia to willow. Standing at the kitchen counter,
you pick through a carton of strawberries.
Good juicy ones from the moldy and over-ripe.
Choices that are easy. What do you trust anymore?
The aproned man in the mercado said California strawberries,
they’re the best this time of year. In bed, later,
you remember the grocer, round belly under his apron,
but as you start, nearly asleep, to tell your wife about him,
how he talked about his deals, she starts
reading aloud from a tattered bird guide, that the wood thrush
is “essentially useful and worthwhile.”
What is worthwhile?                      Now, remember.

David Rivard, “Late?” from Torque. Copyright © 1988 by David Rivard. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260, Used by permission of University of Pittsburgh Press.
Source: Torque (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1988)
More Poems by David Rivard