Grand Junction by Neeli Cherkovski

the rivers meet where sentences slide.
I’d bet my life, lie on a river-bed.
the slim young man in dungarees will slip
into position when the sun has gone
into overdrive. the sons and daughters
of my generation will prepare
for the end-game. some might linger
for years. others will fall into sleep
and not return. in Grand Junction
I take my chances.

fight the killer birds who perch
on your spark plugs. is it
a God makes mercy work or common
decency? from Junction we visit
the canyons to witness the geologic
truth. a fat man who makes
a big deal of selling cups of iced tea. when
I say “fat” I mean easily 350 pounds. his body
jiggles. “Dive right in” he tells me. “Cool,” I
say and return to the van.

some of the rock formations are one
billion years old you may wish to purchase
and be the proud owner. we’re digging a new well
and making preparations in case the mammoth returns.
over the far hills. you ask what it means, oh
what does anyone know? they will build here
their fortresses of steel and glass. one of the boys
Dies of boredom and two trade in obsidian.

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North of November by Neeli Cherkovski

Sometimes the days stretch
Over the grim machines
Larger than memory
Should allow
And I just have to go there
Because it is no use
To resist the power of the forces
That have come together

I may balk and complain
To others but the fact is
Memory is difficult
Fraught with danger
Capable of driving you mad
Old bolted doors
And narrow windows
Of downtown office buildings

I have to go north of November
In order to forget
Even then it’s difficult
Rising over the Cascades
Cruising an open road
Buying an Amtrak ticket
And lying in bed

Well the train cuts across
Stern barriers in old growth forests
And the breakfast is served
It’s perfect and the coffee
Strong enough

Sometimes wolves come leaping
Down the hallway
Books collapse
As I try to empty
Random spikes of trouble
Snagged on barbed wire
In my brain

A pale green Chevrolet
Is parked in my childhood
Granny carries a black purse
Filled with $20 bills she hands me
When I spin like a top
And dream of sweet young men
Who live under my bed
And take poetry seem so easy

Memories memories memories
I am lost on snow fields
Palms cracked from the ice
Lips bloody with frost
The ancient hunters follow
As I take one moment
To build a fragile fire
From what my ancestors taught

November November
To the north I knew as a child
Complex terrifying memories
Crouching like rabid dogs
I see their eyes gleaming down the road
Time to say hello time to go
Time for musk oxen and men
Who would never surrender
But always surprise
Because they know how to endure

Grant Avenue Soliliquoy by Neeli Cherkovski

NOW IT IS SEVEN A.M. and the streets
turn Chinese, so many men and women
still asleep, the Li Po Bar opens soon
an old Vet of the Spanish War
unfolds his vision of a full moon over
Barcelona, the Irish barkeeper-artist
turns a blind eye, another walks with
a hook for hands, he wears
a pirate costume, I have become down
on such things – I feel naked
here on the sidewalk, hesitate
wishing I had the power
to stay home where I may
execute the dark walls

wouldn’t it be okay
if I found a slim young prince of darkness
to enter the castle
and offer his blue solitude if only
for a few centuries, then when he is a thin
aging man I’d put my arms around him
in thin air and speak of the rain
that covered these sidewalks

awaken on another morning
when marching bands collide
and spooks show up to squander
coins, everything is settling-in
on THE SEA AROUND US, all life sounds
limited, splendid like red flowers
in a vase at window’s edge

oh mothers, fathers, go sweep the halls
of your sons and daughters, re-arrange
the plants, give to the animals a simple
set of chances, walk your boyfriend
into the castle, go for a walk
on the wall, the moon is still waiting
for us, the executives of sleep come
into the café, well-dressed account
clerks mingle, now the doors open
at the bookstore, I carry out the
collected poems of a famous doubter
and tie my shoes by the pizza joint

the day we met you were in a red
plaid shit, still I love thee, still
your skin is smooth and soft,
tomorrow your hair streams down
over your shoulders, maybe I
should never dream again, close down
the fortress, I’d love to explain
why everything crashed, how we’d sit
in the kitchen and frown at the simple
pleasures, your smile when you sleep
forever fascinates, how dumb I am
today, the trade-off is grief, lo! words
grow like wild flower on the far side of
my dream, then turn to dust
as the sun rises, and we’re on the street

slaughter is the rule, rude, plague was
a means, power wanes, people talk and
smoke, cigarette butts lie at the café’s
front door, a few blocks from here
Chinese statues stare at the traffic
we love those movies in our heads
and the insignificant talk over espresso
down below, we move in strange ways
and step into the river of concrete
and asphalt, there was Jack and Ken
and books on Zen, there were “Whispers
of immortality” in the blooming air

the owner of our café was named
Gianni Giotto, he came from Trieste,
how we long for the night, how we hunger
for fortune, what we wouldn’t do
for an invitation to dreams that do not
impose limits, the good ones, the overwhelming
trust, a blue eye, a blond sign, a small
and unassuming set of odes to propagate
secretly, a set of keys for the castle

A San Francisco Ode by Neeli Cherkovski

seeds, real words, first real words
reeling from his palm, he turns over
the book, first thing I thought was
of the Odes, a book of blood and lamentation
spoonful of fog rising
from the Bay waters, loom of Raccoon Straits,
the ruins of Jack London, the mansions
on Rincon Hill, wild boys of the Barbary Coast,
Irish painter who dotted
my face with freckles, Tiny Trent on Broadway’s
wrecked façade, moving pictures, mountains
and trails

these are the seeds he placed
on your eyes, the delicate lives
running and jumping deep inside, wounds
in the seed, skip and romp, imitate
shooting stars, bless the robed
hillsides, spell over the town
your wizard’s wand, old men in
row houses shifting the shadows around
and drinking Bourbon, the retired garage
mechanic, aged Italian musicians
scraping the bottom in this white city
nailed to the drums of Ohlone

rows of spring flowers,
dead or dying households,
fly swatter left on the table,
roll of quarters in a kitchen drawer,
cans of tuna on the shelf, books in a
pile near the front door
and oh his Levis folded, five pair
of pants, one dress shirt, his
underwear, Fruit of the Loom

in a dream the poet wrote of rooftops
and women hanging laundry
for the rule of law, for equity, on account of
a civilized and rhythmic span of light, and
this one sold books and the other one
worked at conventions setting-up
viewing stands, that one had a son
who sailed away in a blue boat
and landed on the moon

aged European men in the square
or under the shade
of the true God who offered
long and slender arms
pulling back at dawn
on an imaginary lawn

cheap rooms near the Financial
District, playing poker with the future
mayor, sorry for the slight
down here on Polk Street
no penny arcade
the smiling hobo clown
with a rose between his lips
catches our grime, touches
our fingertips, the strolling sky
of Ferlinghetti, constant
thread of rain, jazz
in the third eye, empire of romp

empty empire, rock and roll, punk,
heavy metal, loud voices
over a din of Giuseppe Verdi
on the juke box, it isn’t memory
pulls the strings, impressions
fit the prism, the convex skies
reap benefits

Del and his dead lover, I blame
myself, his suicide rolled down
the trolley tracks as the bell rang
for the milling crowds
of the grand hotel lobbies

skinny boys settling in
forever, neat bicycle legs
athletic handsome quiet rise,
this bus goes directly into
the mind of a working
class attitude, then came
beatitude bum from every conceivable
Kansas City, do you have a dime
or will you spend your life
trying, the low mist, the heavy
fog, high wind, wise Muni transit

I’ll meet Fernando
at Anita’s hair salon ,
he is off at 4
we walk to his apartment
in the back and sleep
between cold cracks
in the muddle of an enchanting
fortress, he loves
to wait and walk supine
while the sun vanishes
over Twin Peaks, the grocery stores
are not yet Palestinian

Fernando loathes
that simple dime, he
passes time, time loves
to wander into
rhododendron grove
and find diamonds
lying on the ground, only I
see them, I take advantage
of stunning girders
on our town

oh your bedroom is a garden
exquisite flowers and
plants, this is Eden, the window
faces broad and supple sunlight,
your cat has the most amazing eyes

saw shadows in
the Tunnel of Love, squandered
death dreams at a table
in the local café, it was a strange
poet’s city one afternoon
until the latter-day prophets
arrived to say enough
we’ve swept the table clean