The worst questions being those of purpose—
as in result and not intent.
The only choice being the kind of air we breathe
and then, once we’re breathing it, not even that—
churros, exhaust, a stranger’s perfume,
overripe fruit, frying meat, lilies, dust.
There is a great deal happening here.
Most of it is coming to an end.
The mimes are closing shop. The gilt men
and the silver men, trailing the powder of their ore,
pause to smoke under the awning of a Pizza Hut,
the clown unwraps her sandwich,
my childhood’s brashest faces wearily unsheath themselves,
and the ashen man drifts away,
still in character, or, at the very least, still gray,
There is much to be done.
There are ears of corn to be sheared into a vat.
There are toys to be demonstrated and sold—
rubbery dinosaurs that swell up in water,
the grown-ups now displayed, grotesquely evolved, beside their tiny kin—
cigarette butts to be flicked toward the curb,
names to be embroidered into a placemat,
or engraved onto a pen, or inscribed in Chinese.
Yours, if you like, and if you pay.
There is something particular to cities in the way, even
when standing absolutely still, one hovers,
the only participation being consumption, literally,
the gradual incorporation and dissolution of a mango-flavored lollipop into
the sinews beneath the tongue—
proof of having seen a thing and wanted it, proof of having it,
thus bequeathed to me by this place I cannot hold
anywhere deeper than the sinews beneath my tongue,
which share the purpose of my feet, which is to have a sole,
which can only do so much
and is crumbling from repetition.
These are days of bar-fuls of bodies reduced to bodies
when escorted outside to be shot, boys thrashed and disjointed and packed
into the trunk, women taken away and fucked bloody
and flung back out into wherever they were plucked from,
reducing their names to names, reducing the rest
to naming them.
As always, there is much to be named.
I have a friend who comes from the north, a desert city,
a place my name has rarely called upon me to imagine.
I ask him if he ever felt in danger there.
No, he says. The worst questions
being those of correlation.
There is a lighted carousel in the park,
ringed with stalls selling indistinguishable beaded earrings
I have often bought, only to lose one of the pair
along the way: on the bus, or in a bed, or in a bar,
or among the other stands selling watches, incense, empanadas,
or on the elevated bridge across the freeway.
There are old men gathering around stone embankments to play chess.
Behind them is a mural displaying the same park,
long ago and imaginary, teeming with skeletons
and parasols arched against women’s shoulders.
And there is a stereo pulsing drum and bass from the morning onwards,
and prostitutes, and the eyebrows of prostitutes, erased and reconfigured
in black pencil, and a man leaning against a truck with a sign that announces
he will exchange potted plants for furniture.
There is much to be examined with both hands.
There is much to be ignored.
There is much to be gotten rid of
by spitting, or passing by, or inhaling, or forgetting.
My friend tells me that, the first time
he returned home, he began to weep before he’d even left the plane,
wept as soon as he saw the desert, whose principal promise
was the bed he’d slept in every night of his life
before these days.
There is a long, piercing whistle that rises and sustains itself
out of a flimsy metal cart with a chimney spout, like a small tin train,
an incongruous home for fried bananas drizzled with condensed milk,
which is what it delivers if you ask for them; eating them
being the only way to believe the relationship they share;
the best questions being in themselves a changing of hands.
There are hands. This being the only way to see
in this brimming place, in all its endlessness of places,
the street, the stadium, the subway car,
all full of hands, sternums, elbows, names, noses, lives:
to dismantle, then reassemble,
to shrink and swell.
These are days of invisible volcanoes.
These are days of longing without hunger
and possession without ownership,
days of earthquakes that sway the buildings on their springs,
which press on the earth,
which rests on a lake,
which remains, irreversibly, water.
There is a city impossible to leave.
There is a desert.
There is another desert we call home.