Joshua Poteat

Department of Hymnals

The night has used itself up, the river, unbound, turns away

and the highway turns to disquiet, trucks downshifting

the overpass, engine upon engine of early morning,

sweet diesel thick as wool and all that peaceful asphalt

sympathetic through the horizon. Not exactly peaceful,

just there, a vessel uniform and open, free from

any other purpose, curled by the office buildings,

yellow windows still lit with no memory, no guilt.

There is someone up there throughout the rain,

holding up the sky. Here the years, here the wind,

here the spotlight on the strip club's roof

circling the clouds. The year before I die

I shall send out four hymns to track down God.

There will be no answer. Am I wrong to mention God?

No one can tell the living from the shovels of the dead,

which is an example of faith, which is morning.

The highway does not subtract, it adds something,

luminous text of reflective paint makes the city whole,

a new dead voice, bridges stained green to match the eels

in the mud, the girders do not know whether to flourish

or rust, a form of groveling. Passenger, this will hurt a little.

There will be ruin, sedative of fog on the bottomlands

where the plow-horses desired not to be touched

in their centuried beds. Before the highway,

there were houses and the deaths of houses,

goldenrod in the slave cemetery, all plowed

under with the city watching. Before that,

something else, trespass and mandate,

osprey at the throat, I listen for it.

The decoy owl on the Masonic Lodge roof

does not scare the pigeons away, so I listen for it.

The pigeons, having never seen a fake owl, listen close

for any sound, sleeping or violence like the bluest eye

of seed rising up. This is why they are born.

Don't hold it against me. To damage takes lessons

in vanishing, and here I am, steeled against death,

no sleep in days, I'm not going anywhere.

There is nothing I won't do to live this life.

One day I'll need to know why.

* * *

Poem from the manuscript The Regret Histories: From Replica of the Sears, Roebuck & Co. Catalogue, Fall 1900 and was originally published in Greatcoat. Reprinted with the permission of the author. All Rights Reserved.




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