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Monday, December 23, 2019


by David Chorlton

The lady’s hair protests
too much; it shines against her age
with glitter in the green
dye cresting on her head. She holds
a cigarette between her first
and middle fingers, exhaling into
the morning just now
clearing from the early clouds
as she walks with her breast on display
by way of the five bold
letters silvered on her black shirt that proclaim
her FAITH.
                     In what
remains unstated. And all the upper case sparkle
gives nothing away
as to what or why she believes,
but inspires a guess regarding which sea
her soul is sailing on
in these impeachable, divisive
and uncertain days within sight
of Christmas. The pigeons
circling overhead have faith
that someone’s crumbs will fall for them,
the traffic lights
that cars will stop when they turn
red, the president that every lie
will one day be a jewel
in his legend’s crown. But faith
is a blind man’s mirror,
                                          a step in the dark,
the makeup on a woman’s face
when she is past her prime
and needs it to steady
her walk. She’s sitting now, on a stool
looking across the parking lot, while
the country teeters
on a tightrope and the great
questions just hang in the air like
the scarf of smoke around her face.
Whether there’s a god
                                           and who
he’d vote for; how old
is the mountain draped beneath the northern
sky; what kind of pen
was used to write the Constitution?
These careless moments
spent gazing
at life’s passage end
with a tobacco stub trodden into the ground.
something finished, over
and done with. What comes next?
                                                                Maybe read
a few pages of the King James version, or
the National Enquirer. A cough
to clear the throat, a storm to clear
the air. Walk a little
up and down, practice how it feels to doubt
which direction is the best. Look
into the clear light for rain,
check for bargains
at the Safeway, light another
and inhale the belief that nicotine
can heal. A little bell
                                     keeps ringing
charity, charity.  At her place in the arcade
here’s a warrior fighting time alone
while the starlings on the power line
chatter strength in numbers
and when she strikes another match
on the year’s shortest day
the flame reflects
upon the word by which she lives,
taking comfort in uncertainty.

David Chorlton was born in Austria, grew up in Manchester, England, and lived in Vienna before moving to Phoenix in 1978. The Bitter Oleander Press published Shatter the Bell in my Ear, translations of poems by Austrian poet Christine Lavant. Reading T. S. Eliot to a Bird is from Hoot ‘n Waddle, in Phoenix, and a long poem Speech Scroll comes from Cholla Needles Arts & Literary Library.