The Great Depression

During one of those years
about all I owned

was an old black raincoat,
as thin and cheap
and reeking of smoke

as barroom laughter
in the early afternoon.

Everything I loved
could be carried in the folds
of its dark pockets

where my hands clenched
their fistfuls of roses,

and everything I desired
bloomed there in the pretense
of letting go,

while scarlet petals rained down
and splashed to the floor
along the slick and splattered
length of its blackness.

Meanwhile, everything
I tried to hold onto
pricked shallow, thorny
furrows of resentment,

and everything I learned to accept
took root in the scars
and grew there in secret

along with the mundane seeds
of a throbbing, vestigial heart.

At some point I found out
that when the frozen nights
come early and unexpected

an old raincoat can save your life,
but it can just as easily serve
as your black and tattered funeral shroud,

or fall from you unnoticed,
never to be found.

I never knew finally
where I might have misplaced
that god-awful, stinking thing,

but those years took a war to end them.

Wanderings at Deadline

With so much to be done, as the work piles up,
as the bile rises into the back of the throat
and the voices in the hall engage in their ceaseless chatter,
as the telephone rings and the clocks tick on
and this reporter (of sorts) sits staring,
slack-jawed, glassy-eyed and
derelict in his duty,

the mind steals away to wander for just a moment,
to engage in illicit reveries,
to reinvent scenes and invest them with portents and omens
of personal and historic magnitude.

From this dizzying vantage point, it is a direct fall to two youngish lovers,
who begin, easily enough, to embody two ancient cultures,
duty and honor bound to a set of sacred ideals
inevitably discarded.

With further concentration, a scene unfolds of hidden poignancy,
something elusive like the aftertaste of sharp coastal air, with a whiff of ash
in the early morning chill borne by one of the lovers,
grief-stricken at parting, heartsick at things said or not said,
who has wandered throughout the night among people and monuments,
lost on streets once considered home.

As daylight breaks, this image becomes intolerable and impossible to sustain.
The wandering heads south, taking a turn for the surreal
at the eye of Bataille to shock its way through this torpor
with prurient images of the risqué,
aiming toward some epiphany
in a zero-sum triumph of the grotesque.

Flash to a sweltering night, as the lovers quarrel
on their long walk home from the bar, along the fetid canal
where the swarming of rats and their tails
flickering in and out of the cracked pavement
infuses their anger and subsequent love-making with something more
than the squalor of bare bones
and sweat on pavement.

But, as the clock marches on toward doom,
this reporter is jolted toward a view with little adornment,
forced into a poor man's minimalism
as the mists of the past part to reveal
nothing more than an ordinary little affair,
quite common enough in its humid evenings
and sweet afternoons,
with the usual trappings and complications
or a variation on a well-worn theme,

something that finally feels right at home
with the cheap, plastic paneling of the cubicle,
the obstructed view of the steaming parking lot,
the AC unit grumbling up onto its last legs

and the endless, interminable reports
that wait for no man's leisure
or pleasure,
that simply, absolutely, and utterly
must be filed.

Tim Hawkins has lived and traveled widely throughout North America, Southeast Asia and Latin America where he has worked as a journalist, technical writer and teacher in international schools. He currently lives in his hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan. His poems have appeared recently in Umbrella: A Journal of Poetry and Kindred Prose, The Shit Creek Review, The Literary Bohemian, BluePrintReview, Underground Voices, 13 Miles from Cleveland, and The Flea

© 2004-2009 Underground Voices