clothespins :: stuart dybek

I once hit clothespins   
for the Chicago Cubs.   
I’d go out after supper   
when the wash was in   
and collect clothespins   
from under four stories   
of clothesline.   
A swing-and-a-miss   
was a strike-out;   
the garage roof, Willie Mays,   
pounding his mitt   
under a pop fly.   
Bushes, a double,   
off the fence, triple,   
and over, home run.   
The bleachers roared.   
I was all they ever needed for the flag.   
New records every game—
once, 10 homers in a row!   
But sometimes I’d tag them   
so hard they’d explode,   
legs flying apart in midair,   
pieces spinning crazily   
in all directions.   
Foul Ball! What else   
could I call it?   
The bat was real. 

curtains :: stuart dybek

Sometimes they are the only thing beautiful
about a hotel.
Like transients,
come winter they have a way of disappearing,
disguised as dirty light,
limp beside a puttied pane.
Then some April afternoon
a roomer jacks a window open,
a breeze intrudes,
resuscitates memory,
and suddenly they want to fly,
while men,
looking up from the street,
are deceived a moment
into thinking
a girl in an upper story
is waving.

bath :: stuart dybek

She mops a washcloth down his spine and scrubs
until his bones glow with the inner light of porcelain
and when his Haloed hair bursts forth into foam
he holds his nose and dunks beneath the soapy gloom
ears flooding with signals
the pipes transmit like microphones.

The boy can hear another city, the one below
where wind coils when it isn’t howling,
one can hear Purgatory boil
up through the manholes, a river flushing souls
into the underworld, tomorrow’s news
bawled at the crossroad of subway and sewer.

If he were accidentally to swallow here
the water would taste like silver
off a dead man’s eyes. Upstairs,
the mute émigré waitress he secretly
adores sings naked in the shower,
the newlyweds from Mexico

rage about dinero, next door
a newborn wails like a Black Maria,
while in a hidden room, a crazy old man
won’t stop repeating “the goddamn, the goddman!”
And the boy comes up for air,
eyes burning, rinsed hair silky, his hands
wrinkled, Busha says, as prunes.

Overhead, the bare bulb fogs with steam.
She jerks the plug, the drain
gulps a vortex of gray bathwater.
It’s time to rinse before it sucks him down,
to stand calf-deep, lacquered with Ivory,
smoldering before a faucet that trickles

a cool stream at which Busha washes him
first gently in front and then behind
in a way that no one else will ever wash him.
The moon, too, must be fogged above
misted lamps that bleed into reflections
on the marbled pane.

He swipes abstractions in the sweat,
finger painting night
while Busha towels his hair
as if reviving a drowned sailor
the sea has graciously returned.
Don’t worry, Busha, your grandson is clean

for Saturday night:
ears, navel, nails, inspected,
teeth unstained, cleansed as baptism
leaves the soul, pure enough to sleep—
as you instruct him—with the angels,
cleaner than he’ll ever be again.

chord :: stuart dybek

A man steps out of sunlight,
sunlight that streams like grace,

still gaping at blue sky
staked across the emptiness of space,

into a history where shadows
assume a human face.

A man slips into silence
that began as a cry,

still trailing music
although reduced to the sigh

of an accordion
as it folds into its case.

vivaldi :: stuart dybek

When I met Vivaldi it was dark,
a ragman lashed his horse’s bells,
streets tilted into slow wind tunnels,

no, it was another night, in winter,
snow as soft as opium, two winoes wassailed
down an alley through a milk truck’s ruts,

in the subways a violin was whistling
down chrome tracks, past cobalt semaphores,
rats and pennies underneath the 3rd rail . . .

Has it never been so quiet that you’ve heard
the manhole covers rumble when the El goes overhead?
Icicles growing? Could you tell the difference
between the sound of filaments in light bulbs
burning down, and a dulcimer played in a padded cell?

A meager music hovers everywhere:
at mouths of drains, echoing stairwells
where girls in muslim disappear
whispering “allegro.”

When I closed my eyes,
less than a ghost,
Vivaldi cupped a mouth harp
like a match against the wind.