Street Secrets

street-secrets by kmls It is Friday night, almost midnight, and I hobble home down the cracked and broken sidewalks of a sleeping city. She sleeps, but it is with one eye open, like a great cat. Here and there a yellow eye stares out from a dark apartment building. A lone light bulb hangs from the ceiling and casts an eerie glow on the figures in the windows. A woman catches one last breath of the night breeze. Lovers embrace. A man reads a book. Pupils in the iris of this creature who dreams in the lap of Morpheus. On a heating grate outside the Federal Court of Appeals, a blanketed figure turns restlessly in his sleep. I stumble past the churches, towering up into the night sky. I, lone priest who presides over a Mass of concrete and steel. No lights shine from these silent giants save those of the clocks and the spotlights on the steeples. There are fences here as well, with gates locked and doors bolted. In the cold darkness inside, the gold on the altar glimmers in the faint light of a passing star which shines through the bars of a stained-glass window. These stone temples remind me of the office buildings downtown, open for a few hours every week and then abandoned to whatever Lonesome God chooses to creep between the pews and computer terminals. Across the street lie the embassies, surrounded like prisons by steel gates and iron-wrought fences. Flags hang limp from aluminum poles, forgotten wisps of lands faraway. On stuccoed walls, vines creep, thick and green, and push up and into the window where the diplomat sleeps. A coupe d’état of leaves. And grass and trees. The woman closes the window.  A lover reaches back and pulls down the shade.  The man glances at his watch. Two lights go out.  One eye remains to watch the night.  The man reads on . . I cross the street and step into the shadows of the park, past the tree where the pigeons sleep, their heads tucked under wing. A dark form scurries across the cobblestones. It is a large rat braving the claws of this city. He feasts on crumbs fallen from the plates of the homeless who a few hours before stood in line here for a free meal. Rodent’s Communion on a table of stone. A piece of plastic, ghostly white, blows up from the street in a vain attempt at escape from reality. Rising ever so slowly, it hangs for a precious moment in the wind before a passing car smashes it to the pavement again. Tomorrow, a black man in a dark blue uniform will come to this corner, pick up the plastic, and place it carefully in the heavy brown paper bag that is the garbage. Then he’ll place the bag on his creaky, bicycle-wheeled cart and move on to the next piece of white trash. Around the corner, another piece of plastic hangs like a phantom from the limb of an oak. Unlike her brother, she has tasted freedom and she swings and sways in the breeze as if to mock his fate. She dances, unaware that hers is an eternal crucifixion. For as her brother burns, she must forever be, trapped in the tree and taunted by the wind, but never really free. As I reach the steps of my home, the wind rises up. A piece of paper scrapes across the street. Rustling of a page and the man slowly closes the book. He yawns, stretches, and reaches for the light. One final yellow eye flickers, goes out, and the city surrenders herself to the night. Written Mar. 27, 1992

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