VOICES FROM THE FIRE: James Duncan

Fedora

window arteries of black rain 

stream through red apoplectic 

lights of neon and bitter halogen 

where the moonlight dies reaching 

for empty holsters, guns gone, 

carried away by the hands of the clock, 

hour of agony in this office overlooking 

34th Street, rain and chaos, knots of taxis,

umbrellas like beetles scurry to subway

stairs down into the darkness, but up here 

there is only death and dust, each a stabbing 

accusation telling me there is a grinning 

devil somewhere out there crushing a headstone 

with delight; he waits with a gasoline smile, 

as I wait with an empty whisky bottle, 

a hand without a gun, white bones burdened 

by shame, craving time to make this last crime 

correct, but all the time I already wasted 

in this life is just an unsigned confession 

they’ll lay on my chest before they close 

the casket, a sentence six feet deep where 

I’ll have to make do with unrequited love,

unfinished business, a silken kiss in the dark, 

but never the red curtain falling to applause, 

my heart forever one beat shy of love

Transience 

Stray and I talked about walking from New York City 

to San Francisco and I always worried he’d kill himself 

before we had the chance, but then jobs and money started 

coming in again and those long walks along farm roads 

faded, the nights under train bridges dissolved, the crickets 

and little crinkle of fire deafening in our ears as subways 

and traffic held us in place with new jobs, new homes, new 

futures, and maybe it was for the best that we didn’t go…

but 

Stray, old friend, I wish 

we tried—the fact that you even asked 

was joy enough for one wayward lifetime, 

and I thank you

Driver Dave

he drove my Toyota backward

all the way through Greenwich

I followed him on foot, such a 

lonely parade at 11 at night

a small farm town on the edge of

nowhere, the clutch long gone

the only gear that stilled worked 

was reverse, so he said he’d do it

I thought it was too crazy to try myself,

but he made it, 5 mph the whole way 

Dave, browbeaten by life, living in a rented 

room after his wife asked for a separation

though not a divorce, that was too much,

too final, too sad, but he’d never return

he’d spend the rest of his days driving

backward through his life, slow and crazy

willing to try anything, nothing to lose,

later stealing my car from the mechanic’s lot

when the mechanic tried to screw me over,

leaving burn-out ruts in the muddy lawn

the mechanic calling me, screaming for his bill,

but Dave said, forget him, he doesn’t know anything

and returned to his rented room to drink alone

as I listened to the phone ring and wonder what to do

my muddy car hiding under a tarp, the clutch gone,

and so many miles ahead of me with no way forward

A Case of the Mondays

it is 4:30 a.m. and dawn is

somewhere—but not here

sirens came through the night and

the curtains, but now—silence

they say they’ll pay us double

they say they’ll pay us triple

they keep the lights on and

the registers open, they keep

the time clocks ticking even

though the world clocks are

grinding to a halt on every

continent around the globe

it is 4:45 a.m. and dawn is

not coming—not anymore

of course, the sun will rise but

that isn’t the same thing, is it?

they say the stock market crash is

good for us, it will help, like they

said the stock market soaring was

good nine months ago—it’s all

bedtime stories told by men in

ties who don’t know anything

about anything worthwhile now,

but they say Wall Street is open

even though Main Street is dead

it is 5:09 a.m. and dawn is the glow

of distant fires on the horizon

you pick up your phone but there is no

society found in those wires anymore

your work badge and the last of your 

sandwich meat in the last of your bread

waits in your work bag by the door, as

smoke fills the sky, blurring the neighbor’s

American flag and red political lawn signs

that neighbor hasn’t come outside in days

that neighbor will never come outside again

it is 6:30 a.m. and you hope the end 

will be quick, but you also know better 

you rise; you open the door to another shift on Earth,

the monetization of your soul relentless and unending

and disappear 

into the fog

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