Cambridge Book Review

[Issue #5, Winter 2000-2001]

Long Shot Odyssey

Walter Bruno

Canto XVII

"If we did it ourselves?" he croaked,
down from the pleats
of a Rand-McNally day,
putting Berkeley into Daly
and far Alameda;

his felonious grin
I saw in the mirror:
a Harlequin twist
over spread hands;

"If we did it alone?" he sang,
yodeling to the wall;
a quick fold of Mission
into Castro
and the cracked groin
of Market and the Tenderloin
warned me to shrug "Fine";

now all the Bay windows
fly past
and the pointed roads
reach their compass;

now he's quite flown;

recall me, as I lie
upon the continent's hinge
pinned by the eye
of high summer:

perfidious organ,
occulting genius,
too perfect to judge,
too hot to repulse,
knowing all, keeping nil,
far above this broiled field

of hung skulls pealing within,
calling the ocean's names --

I thought, Would he troop
through the noon
before reading the sign
at Embarcadero?
or say Up, wanting Down,
and be lost in icebergs?

Sandpiper! get your wing
out of the view
from my burning pillow;
I am like you, an orphan
of Hudson Bay;

expelled from winter,
you express to Rio
to catch what's gone;
are you alone?

do you report?

tell me what he says
softly to petitioners
on the deck of the ferry
to Alcatraz;

in diminishing light
he'd barely have time for Berlitz:
"follow us; can't remember; won't know;
can't possibly leave without a boat";

his flight I imagined to the shore,
the weed in his hair,
and his launch upon a board
with sugar oars;

at sea, he'd try the questions
I'd penned for him:
"Where am I now?"
"What is your name?"
"Can you perhaps call my friend?"

sweatsoaked serifs
muscular rebuff
he'd hurl upon the highest tides --
but which of his cheeks turned awry?

I saw worse:
I saw his flesh
by jealous lilies
sucking his briney white toes
while hamburger grilled
in air upon the charcoal vine;
I saw his starved eyes
blankly the full sentence serve;

then it rained
curtains of sand
a slap up my nose
salt in hot fat
and I jumped like a bug;

and he kicked more sand
then more again
till I was filled with land and him,
wild to find the keys to our motel.

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