Tell Me the Hurt Thing

for Charles

Get on the floor you hear & do, too terrified to pick through
accents dense as stone, dense as this machinery lifting you
into vertigo. Too frightened to hear push number four because
you’re a woman alone: a turn of overcoat & leather purse in
a dead-end alley, an agent from the overworld arrived in this
night-time city of pain.

This summer Mount Holyoke & Bryn Mawr only take you so far:
this elevator, this anonymous project between Jimmie Ho’s
Liquor & an alley called the Hall of Fame. Get on the floor
you hear & do, whispering “oh my God” as if He doesn’t already
know, doesn’t already see you shrink to the carpet–the two
men standing over you: homeboys uptown from Brooklyn or college
kids on a weekend pass. White hightops & velour sweatsuits,
eyes heavy-lidded & anger-sure.

Listen: what’s the difference if we’re waiting for you, if
we’re not? Your first visit to the city, fear betraying you
like a cheap perfume as you search for a room in this building of
steel & old brick, windows like dumb witnesses, blind eyes in
the bare façade.

Push number four… & it can’t just be asking for a favor, not
because you’re so close to the door–but a stroke of confusion,
a snag in the sheer fabric of morning noon and night, our heart
skipping like a stone over dark river water. Get on the floor
because what else could they say to you who’ve seen the videotape
of the summer fires, black fists in the face of a vigilante
america?

Push number four because the stairs are murder: a crooked rattle-
snake spine, windows painted shut, walls twice papered over,
built into catacombs you’re sure they know by heart: busted hall
lights & pitch dark landings, cul-de-sacs colored a murderous
blood-red.

Listen: get on the floor. You’re just here for the vacancies,
the rooms with the doors left ajar. We’re the ones who’ve
stumbled into your nightmares, as your screams bear sirens in
ours. What did we tell you. Alone, you’re caught

counting on vengeance. Push number four. Get on the floor.

***