Why the Heartbroken Should Work at Street Festivals
To work the ticket booth beside the Ferris wheel
perched in a plastic chair, sneakers kicked
off on shiny galvanized floor under the roar
of the Duo Therm Brisk Air raining down cool.
To rain down cool, break yellow tickets off
a roll, tear stiff pink sheets of twenty, thirty,
they say Swank’s Steel City Shows, sit facing
the Mini Ball Hoops game, one basket in two tries
wins a plush green alien in Bulls uniform
with Michael Jordan’s number, or a smiley face
with legs, or bulldog (red), or tiger (green).
To watch the carny, a boy with hair half-shaved,
half-ponytail try to get one in, fail nearly
every time, his own worst salesman but he hustles
them in anyway, the beefy boyfriends, kids
at the cusp of baby fat and growth spurt swathed
in oversized T-shirt and shorts. To love them
and the skinny girls clutching soft dollars, eager
to yield their equilibrium to spin and fall,
to Hurricane, Startrooper, Sizzler, Zumer, Super Slide,
and the carousel with frosted pastel ponies,
the Granny Bugs, four ladybirds in wireframes
circling a giant candy apple-colored
mushroom, to love the bad-toothed father
and the scarred father, fathers with trembling
plastic bags of goldfish, with inflated bats,
the mothers belly ringed and fanny packed,
the plump girl eating French fries from a tinfoil boat,
the homely boy in a black T-shirt that reads
100 Percent Pure Whoop Ass, the pretty couple
with expensive haircuts, cell phones in back pockets.
Only forty minutes left to go and then we’re off
to Apollo, the ferris wheel man says. To ask
if ticket-selling poets ride for free, to hop
into a yellow car (hope lasts a long time),
to shut home the bar and no one else gets on
so all alone to rise over the South Side,
thirteenth and Sarah, churches perched on slopes,
Swank’s Steel City’s ferris wheel sweeps down
out of July’s blue sky not too high above
the lapping river and it’s slower than a roller
coaster’s fall but faster than its climb and it
is free and yellow and to be here, to deserve
this ending, to come back any time you like.
Plug your tongue into the socket,
lay your slice upon the plate,
pour sweet cream on and bite.
A new vocabulary hums in dusk-colored air.
This poem is about believing in something,
something you overheard once in a parking lot—
I heard it too, but never having learnt the language
I just have to go by hearsay. Here: say it is
a new language. form. sound shaped like stream
cobbles, blue and gray, click and whisper. You ask
Will we walk all night through solitary streets?
I say, If you want to. Me, I wanna
make you dance like snow under a street lamp
so get used to this motion, it’s like getting
used to a child who hums the same songs over and over
and insists on wearing red shoes all the time,
you got to let her. Oh baby, do you want to dance
in falling snow to this one? You slide on ice and say
The day is like wide water, without sound.
I flap my arms and cry O night
betrayed by darkness not its own
but the flakes hitting our tongues are silent
and have been cold a long time, all the way
from the next world up. When they pass melting
to our mouths they hum, if only we could hear—
(you captured so well in that moment)
if you can’t be free, be a mystery.