Poem – City Lights

City Lights
     in the city’s perfect emanation of light
                                        -Carolyn Forche

Traffic light
     spotlights
          the hungry man on the corner
     holding a cup for change.

Christmas lights
     bring out his high cheekbones
     ragged pants over thin thighs
          eating into themselves.

Red light district
     nonexistent
          in fishnet stockings
     and black leather miniskirt.

Street lights lining
     dirt road curving
          around a bend a paved highway
migrant worker and colleagues in an earth-brown
     van headed southbound
          to cabbage patches in Watsonville.

Boardwalk lights
     enveloping broken relationships
          between high school sweethearts in their thirties
their six year-old on a porcelain horse
     chasing a dream that will always stay
          a few lengths away.

Wall Street lights
     selling the junk bonds analyst
          the idea of becoming a poet
his office light is not bright
     enough for him to live comfortably,
but he feels fine.

Porch light
     waiting for the return
          of a prodigal son
lost to necessities.


-Smith
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Poem – Aspirations to Become the Starbucks Poet

Aspirations to Become the Starbucks Poet

Before my father died, I told him
I wanted to be the Starbucks poet.
He laughed and said
that was a sure way to go broke.
Though relatively uneducated, he knew
$3.35 for a Caffé Mocha is rather inflated.

I was 20, a junior in college
with caffeinated blood
and nicotine-caked lips.

He asked if I would spend the rest of my life
writing about sunsets and doves.
No, poetry isn’t like that anymore…
	if it ever was.
“Great, now you won’t even get laid either.”

A poetry professor once told me that all poems have
a beginning, middle and end.
Did she mean birth, life and death?

Personally, I just wanted to sort words out
so they made a little bit of sense
when I scanned the page from left to right.
It became more complicated than I thought.

After my father died, I went through his things:
army fatigues, a stash of 120 one-hundred dollar bills,
his life savings all wrapped in silk and crisp from the mint,
stacks of religious books written in dead Chinese characters.

I was 21.
I took a summer course in Mandarin
to see if I could unlock the words.
The professor’s first lesson:
Read up and down and backwards.
I dropped after the second week,
the professor expected too much out of me,
the lone Asian in the class.

So, for a while, I visited as many different Starbucks as I could.
They were of all shapes and sizes,
but in their round logo, they all had the same green,
and the curvy chick.

Usually, I sat in a chair facing the bar.
It never ceased to amaze me
the amount of pretty young girls
willing to make my coffee to order.
Usually, I had the coffee of the day.

But, imagine a poetry book sitting on the shelves
with logo-clad mugs and baristas.
A marketing manager’s dream.
It’d make a killing,
especially Christmas
and Valentine’s Day.

My father was a small-time farmer
who woke with roosters and the sun.
He lived with cracked hands and leathery skin,
and when I was born, he wanted
a doctor or a businessman for a son.

Instead, he got a small-time alcoholic
with undisciplined money management.
But when I’m at a bar, I can still spot a farmer:
the ones with dust on their shoes,
and they drink beer and liquor, “neat.”
They’re honest and they shoot pool straight.

-Smith