Jesus of Walmart
Upon Receiving My Brother's Ashes
At the Auto Junkyard
What's in a Name?
Cote de Vallé
Grendel in the City
Jesus of Walmart
They liked the radiant smile, his upbeat manner
and so, despite a scanty work record –
“Assistant carpenter, then three years
wandering the hills” -- they hired him
as a greeter, the wages from his full-time,
28-hour-a-week job not enough to cover
the company’s health insurance. “Get sick
around here and you just have to heal yourself,”
muttered a disgruntled “associate,” a 50-ish mother
whose crippled daughter got up the very
next day and walked, everybody calling it
a miracle, just like that special order
of tee-shirts that sold for $1.99 each.
Now he wanders the aisles in a pair
of plastic sandals made in China,
reminding shoppers of special savings
they’ll find if they only keep on searching,
pointing out the counter where
you can redeem coupons clipped from
somebody’s discarded newspaper,
consoling the single moms when they
discover food-stamps can’t be used
to buy the sugary cereal their fatherless
kids clamor for each morning. In aisles
lined with desolate frowns he smiles,
asking weary late-night shoppers if he
can help, talking softly, respectfully
to those who have never known anything
but contempt and the presumption
of guilt. To the illegals sneaking in
after a hard day of underpaid work,
men named Jose, woman called Maria,
he speaks in tongues they haven’t heard
since leaving home in search of plenty.
The lonely, the desperate, the stoned,
those who’ve given up hope, he steers
ever-so-gently away from Hardware
with its brackets of nails and coils
of rope. Look at me, he says.
I have no home, no place to rest
my head. But even on a Saturday night
when it’s raining outside, and the last
bus left 15 minutes ago, there is a place
that’s always open, offering light,
offering the chance that when the price
of going on even another day seems
beyond reach, you’ll find what you need
and it will cost you little, it will cost you
nothing. Just heed my words,
he urges everyone. Have a little faith.
All Present And Accounted For
Earth is the heaven of animals.
It is only on earth they are fully
present and no where else.
(Even in your dreams, the wolf and
the snake are no more than shadows
of your projection.) No brown bear
ever waded the fall run, catching
salmon, but wishing he were
someplace else. No milk cow
plans for the future or dreams
of changing places with the sleek
Jersey on the cover of this month’s
Dairy Digest. Dogs do not fall
into a brown study, cats have
no second thoughts, the honey-
bee gives it full attention
to the hive or the flower.
Horse and cattle may be driven
to distraction by biting flies
(themselves a model of insistent
presence), but in doing so they
give themselves to madness
without stint. That goat you saw
while out driving in the country
wasn’t really sullen; that was some
feeling of your own you’d rather
leave behind standing on a hillside
glaring at the road. Yes,
you have seen apes and lions
looking bored, but that was
at the zoo, where they were trapped
in man-made enclosures, boxes
like the ones you’ve always lived in.
So maybe the soul – the soul you’re
not sure animals even possess –
maybe that’s the name you give
to the part of yourself you have
no power to withhold. And maybe
heaven, maybe that’s where you
hope someday to be fully present,
the garden where we’ll all be
reborn into our animal selves.
My Grandfather at Rest
I close my eyes on a summer afternoon,
and see my grandfather, asleep in his armchair,
there in the old Brooklyn side-by-side.
The upholstery worn smooth behind his head,
his forearms angle over the armrests
like oars of a boat drifting with the current.
He’s still wearing his glasses, The Daily News
draped across his belly, the piping on his long-sleeve
undershirt frayed, his toothless mouth
open slightly, a soft hole collapsing
every time he breathes. I can even see
the stump of his ring-finger where
a dockyard accident severed the bone –
the same stump he liked to use to scare us kids
when he was awake, grabbing our elbows
in what he called “The Devil’s Handshake.”
How many ships did this old man have to unload,
how many mornings huddle in a Pea Coat
waiting for his name to be called, how many nights
come home too tired to eat in order
to earn this 30 minutes of deathlike sleep?
On the table beside him, a half-finished glass
of Rheingold fizzes in the quiet summer air.
Outside, I hear my cousins argue their way
through a game of kick-the-can in the driveway
separating his house from my Uncle John's.
Careful now. I must not wake him.