you are in the diode archives fall 2010



Angel of the Waters

Stone-cold sober when the silver angel appears 
     On Bourbon, you fall in. Religion is for boneheads
Who won’t take a drink
     Unless someone leads them to water

Your demented friend once said laughing and even Rilke
     Whispered every angel is terrifying.  But you fall in.
You give yourself that shadow-shuffle along Decatur,
     That see-through ramble past the Old Absinthe Bar.

The she-males at the Black Cat Club won’t arch
     A pencilled brow—she strolls a soft shoe over
Mardi Gras gumbo paving the cobbles, chipped
     Pedestal slung under her arm, wings trembling.

The angel won’t hurry or pause…  her half-smile stops
     Tourists passing by and they stumble, she seems
So lost. We’ve flown like moths to her dream:
     The Vieux Carré, a storm blown from Paradise.

Verily this day is nothing like the movies. She doesn’t zoom
     To a library, place her light hand on a shoulder, tap
Into the steam. She hangs listless on no trapeze.
     No armor and no bell, she stands there, waiting to become

Stone, skipped into the mind’s eye and you, blue ghost, 
     Leave her to the murmur of the crowd gathering
In the square to watch and wait, each one looking
     For the smallest tic or wink to betray

What she could be under that silvery alien skin.
     Hour upon hour she brings down the strong
Spring sun, almost smiling. Bets are taken.
     Small offerings are tossed in the overturned hat.

Los Perdidos—they’re worshipped in Mexico, the paper says, who survived
     On rainwater from the bilge, gnawing seagulls and sea turtles.
289 days they read Chava’s Bible & mad Lucio played air guitar.
     They saw the angel twice, toxic as seawater, walk the open waters. 

Milagro. Now you’ve come back to see. She’s moved into the shadows
     Of Pirate’s Alley and its magnolia park where duels whirl on
In the dust, where drunks have labored and screwed themselves
     Up in garrets, writing the way out of desire.  You fall in.

She steps down from her rickety stand and you
     Follow, second-lining down the way of sorrows, and while
You stumble and you burn, she won’t look back,
    Not until you have passed beyond
The edge of the Quarter, where the angel stops.
     You stand beside her to look into that face.
When the illusion shatters, its stone and steel release
     Someone with tattooed shoulders and a nose ring,

A pierced nipple and a past.  Once she was an actress,
     A little dancer, once she was somebody’s daughter
Running down the moonstruck hall of a house silent as
     All of bloody Kansas now. That girl, she tells you, is dead.

You discover your body in this cloudy noon, the dead girl gone
     Into the angel again, stranding you flayed with hunger,
Flaked with thirst, with scattered stone and broken steel,
     The temple veils torn, the curtains flying, that thunder rolling in.


Is This Where It Hurts

she said, pushing her fingers in
and I fell out. Broke into a flash
of light whirling down into a hollow  
scream, a cave filling with murmurs.
They tell you if you fall
from a great height in a dream
and finally hit, you wake up
dead but every day our dreams
fall on us like snow from on high,

and so I woke on the checkered floor
like the cauliflower ear of a punch-drunk
palooka swimming up into bad news,
my thigh swollen tight and twice
its size, kneed hard in the game, even then
muscle turning to bone, and wanting to be
fair to all that pain standing behind me,
head bowed, holding its hat, unbelieving still
a big old nurse in a winged cap would do that,
for pity’s sake—or even for pleasure—on purpose,
fair to all those pains standing in their great long line
like Ditto, Ditto & Ditto, the Silent Missouri Boys,
like me, writhing under her touch all those
years—and so I struggled for us all,
standing up finally woozy with intent to do bodily
harm, get all over her like white on rice
and balled my fist to send that starched thing  
off into her own previously unknown state
of being, to clean her clock, ring the bell
on the next round of a new era, like
that stuff stops right now forever
Miss Myositis Ossificans
even Jesus down from the cross
can’t help you now
but on the other hand (if the right one
don’t get you) also wanting to be fair
to that halo of pain I began to see gathering
in her silence then standing behind her pushing
her back down pushing it in and pushing
her forward now to take my hand
to lead me slowly to the examination room
its fresh blank sheet of paper
without a word and a face
like mine that could not be read.



            Chula Vista, California 1991

into the night air sweet and cool
pouring out mums and roses
red silk ribbons Lourdes water
a child’s pretty toys the saints
fire in their eyes painted on tall
veladoras people kneel to light
bread broken onto small white plates
that knock at the door she answered

when the big shots take away
the lights we put them back
even if we have to steal them
from the Marlboro Man when dark
comes now she appears
many people have been healed
thousands by the wall of prickly pear
fat paws to slap yourself awake
they stand there watching crazy
goddamned Mexicans the anglos say
they think it is all in our minds yes
it is in all our minds nothing
nothing but night in their caved-in
skulls when the helicopter beats down
its white eye beating down over
the gathering people like Hollywood
cops moving in hard damn your eyes
nothing matters now but when
the shadows on the empty billboard
begin to swirl like gathering dust
up there in the barrio sky she has a way
of coming back to us
to warn us ask for something
say her name
Laura Arroyo murdered nine-year-old
translated into heaven bearing my name
we are to look for who
stole her the children are still
in danger who is this people
ask phone calls from the dead
I will comb her black hair straight
se cuenta el milagro pero no el santo
yet the killer’s name will be told
she will not eat dirt like me
the billboard blacked out three nights
the other world is rising again
when I bring my mother’s comb
bone for the bone world I bear
it I am a big woman yes I will bear
up under his cross he has slipped
off down the Boulevard of Hell
carrying that pickaxe on his shoulder
but I am standing here and I see


Portrait of the Artist with Columbus in Chains  

            Born 1451, of disputed origin. Sent home in chains, 1498.

Cabrón, we were born to travel cuffed to the numbers, the not-yet
     forgotten years of the rotten centuries in whose middle we were conceived.
Prisoners of our names & days, we might never slip the bone ache, waking
     hard in the stiff ligaments of every unbelieving morning,
the slow cold drizzle, the smell of wet iron,

except those few moments we might look straight in the eye
     of some foreign face, handsomely formed, broad-browed,
and what do we see gathering there, cloudy with hope?
     They have their gods, and they are not among us. We are lonely
and abandoned again. What face for an incensed god hiding in smoke?

Death there makes his little clink and clank turning over
     to remind us. We wait for the sun to come again
and loosen every joint. Remember the tall Asian-eyed woman,
     her thick black hair, her voice a spiced balm so smooth
it raised every stubborn scar? She sang us to sleep, it changed nothing.

We fight on, smack our swords on the waves, but sailors
     steer badly and time is wasted, asses bray and we are sentenced
to listen. Milk and honey. What do they know of finding such
     gold? May hurricanoes sink them heavy with treasure.
Admiral of the Ocean Sea, you and I have come to discover

the great water is no pale nimbus, no blank sheet to etch
     with a name, not a bucket to piss in, and all maps lie. What good
were our puny green flags and those charters written
     in tears and blood? We brought them death, they gave it back.
Our errors have made us. We might end up buried anywhere.

Carve what you wish into the tombstone, it’s lies upon lies.
     Let us not be confused forever, anointed one, with textures of dirt & rock.
The sea’s the place to be. We’ll taste the water, test its salt
     to see how far we are from land.  


Gregory Donovan is senior editor of Blackbird: an online journal of literature and the arts, and author of the poetry collection Calling His Children Home, winner of the Devins Award. His poetry, essays, and fiction have appeared in The Kenyon Review, the Southern Review, New England Review, Chautauqua, storySouth, MiPOesias, the Southern Quarterly, and elsewhere. He teaches in the MFA program at Virginia Commonwealth University, and he helped establish its study abroad programs in Scotland and in Peru.