its yogurt parlors, its shops
and plazas and well-ordered traffic,
its people: figures from builders’ models,
all bent toward some silent virtue.
Real cities are raucous, loud,
foul, and sweet. I recall my mother’s
laughter, the indirection of her speech,
the way she stood in the back door,
the way, when she called me
from childhood alleys with their asphalt
cracking and drains sinking, her voice
hung until it became almost visible
above the clamor of our games.
Now, towns have turned to chain-link.
City planners promise no vines
overtaking rotten fences, no mattresses
spilling open for rats and squirrels.
Partitioned, alleys no longer serve
as conduit for children and cats.
The day my first bike failed
the gauntlet of potholes, my face
met with macadam and I was
unmoved by the word’s French
roots. Alleys have served
the cruel–a cry rising from behind
a dumpster–and also saved souls
desperate to wretch in dark corners.
When a friend and I fled
the televised despair of 1963,
we crept through back gates
and dribbled with numb hands.
Arcing shots caromed from his rim
and the garage eave. Our future might
have worried us if we’d been wiser.
When we’re shattered, alleys
beckon, offer a sinewy trail
to get where we can’t
via thoroughfare or rhetoric.
Muddy and bereft, we reshape
our goings, and zag between
light posts in unmapped realms.
Michael Lauchlan has contributed to many publications, including New England Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, The North American Review, Rappahannock Review, Louisville Review, Poet Lore, Ninth Letter, Harpur Palate, Crannog, Cumberland River Review, Bellingham Review, Lake Effect, and Briar Cliff. His most recent collection is Trumbull Ave, from WSU Press. His next collection is forthcoming from Salmon Poetry.
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