by Keith Carver
You teeter on the wall, that that
that keeps the ancient world
ancient, and talk
as though to rid yourself of helium,
Your voice is a rumor in the smog the semi-circle
of tourists dangle their feet into.
The smog is just the dust
of construction yanked from the old city ruins.
A blanket of noise tosses itself
over the flames of another explosion.
On these Roman shards history strolls
without noticing the hundred-foot drop
to wrecked mansions picked apart by CAT excavators.
The neighborhood children know one word
in English, and it’s money. For once, I did not arrive
at the mountaintop following prophets.
We left before the minarets burst with chanting
and descended into the green of a dead August.
Maybe death clings to borders like static electricity.
The children here have that same metallic smell.
I remember my hometown, like a money booth
where I ate dollar bills, how it sent me away
chewing on presidential likenesses.
America, this girl begs at my feet for coins
she carries back to her father,
who holds up the walls
all these centuries.
Even you felt sad sometimes
after a night of waiting tables.
I’d left town already,
so I have to imagine your years
at the FireKeepers Casino,
the sonic ascent of slot machines,
the weightless perfect fifths
of jackpots ringing four hundred
thousand square feet
on our town’s frontier.
Richie, I’m the tender spot
somewhere below your ribs.
at the ambassador’s mansion,
a chain-smoking attaché,
a girl who flicks the corners
of her headscarf like pigtails and rings
the ambassador’s Himalayan singing
bowl with a wooden mallet and poses
beside the ambassador’s
third-world props, a fine American dust
settled on everything.
Elderly waiters carry sliced beef on
toast with pickles, smoked salmon,
goat cheese mousse with roasted pear,
seltzer and saison and rye on ice
in immaculate dinner jackets.
This is a civilized world, Richard,
opposite that Partello tree
you gave your name to,
that buds picture frames
and crosses now.
I’ve been in barrooms
with you, excising
with a scalpel your best,
doling it piecemeal when you knew
we were starving.
When you told us
you loved us we believed you
because you needed us to believe you,
your face lit by the jukebox nights
that killed so many of us already.
May your ashes float
atop the hundred million
gallons of oil that make
the Kalamazoo River
something really special.
You know I won’t be back to visit
Where do the Laz live? In Egreli,
the Laz live east of Egreli,
in Zongulduk, east of Zongulduk,
in Trabzon, east of Trabzon.
In the extreme eastern villiage of Kazimiye,
population 220, strung in a series of hamlets
along the Georgian border,
the Laz are said to be extinct, but
they are revered nonetheless.
And what a complete heaven, Samsun
after the Amazons, with Russian frieghters
waving at the Laz, said to live
on anchovies alone.
But, there is always another
earthquake. All at once
the rocks move because the rocks
were really warty crabs resting.
You kneel toward Mecca.
Your father is in this city somewhere.
Looks like you in photos,
woman’s face, cheeks preserved
with anise liquor, boyish in the habitual
drinker’s manner, then all
at once infirm.
Those aren’t shadows,
those are crabs,
in camoflauge, the color
of Black Sea haze.
Those are the ants
of the sea. You pushed
a dead jellyfish
back into the water
with a stick.
Of course, the real Laz still exist.
You can Hellenize some,
and you can bring some to Mohammed,
but Lazuri remains,
in spite of banishment.
We count crabs under this cliff edge.
We wander the shoals
until you’re afraid of thunder.
The tracks run all the way past
the bazaar now, three city blocks long.
The fakes are good, the Gazelles look like Gazelles,
the Superstars like Superstars. The leather leathery,
the suede with a nap, Arabs and Russians and Germans,
the smell of butter and flour.
Your father tests the nap
on a pair of bootleg Nikes. Your father
pulls a gun on a guy who catcalls you
and pistol-whips him until he’s
Butter and sea water and plasma,
dirt weed and cracked white leather.
Three miles outside the city
and still you say I smell just like him.
Sorry I haven’t written you
these many years,
and that I changed my name
so you’ll never find me.
I have lent the sea my voice.
I am no longer the foremost
authority on my life.
Humdrum existence here is fine.
Braying horses and garbage, both,
in these pastures, just the sort of thing
that breaks into song with you
as you ride past.
There’s an empty lot where refugees
sort plastic bags. They are not
a treatise on my mistakes
or an illustration of my tenacity
so I won’t belabor them
I watch a wrecked man,
alone near the sea, kicking stars
on a swing set.
You must remember when we almost
burned down your father’s barn
and laughed about it, between the swamp
and the river, in Marengo Township.
The man’s laughter
reminds me of yours,
lit by a blaze.
Poor boys pay a few lira to become
their favorite soccer player
in the shabbiest PlayStation café
The world doesn’t end
past Pearl Avenue
like you said.
Sometimes the Shepherd’s crook
has shit on it.
A staircase on his handmade
leads to the roof,
where he watches, drifts in
and out of sleep, counts
his derelict flock.
READING ALICE COLTRANE’S MEMOIR IN A WALMART TIRE SHOP
In astral projection, Alice
hears sub-contra bass
under the floor of this world
for whose sake the Creator
sustained Himself on thought alone
for one bored eternity.
Alice contacts the supreme
consciousness and sleeps
two hours a night for months.
She buries her eldest then sings
at his plot. She suffers
a night so dark
she nearly disappears,
of piano wire and shale,
a handful of sand. She survives
on the soot left
of childhood. She walks
the embers of the cremated.
She has become,
in deprivation, those holes
you call hands
and hold out to eat
and carry to serve
everything that slips away.
About the Author:
Keith Carver, of Michigan, is a transnational educrat with a DHS file and big-boy striver debt. Ex-Fulbight/Cub Scout. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Rust + Moth, Blacktop Passages, armarolla, and Your Impossible Voice. He lives near the Black Sea with his wife.