Lights are on in the Great Southwest, the energy
of work trapped in offices as desire
points outward. It's late
and nighttime's businessmen crackle downtown's blocks:
cops, the homeless, undergraduates pouring
from the academy walls for buy-one get-ones and drums recycled
from long forgotten songs about heartbreak
and human connection.
A ball game is erupting
from the opened roof of the stadium a block away,
the weather is pleasing enough, twenty thousand brains clinging
to victory's weak hinge. Houston
is a city and all of the ropes pull outward, it's a good
thing. A city is a good thing,
a city is a dot on a map
in a sea of color and veins, words that can be meaningless,
Corpus Christi, Palestine, Happy, Cut And Shoot.
What to take and when to take it, the slash, the splintered rack.
To love a city, to love the state. The state I want to fail most is Texas, the state
that grows my food, that pays
my bills. The children are starving, good, a choice somebody
made, a great somebody in a great house,
Austin in its nest.
I haven't made any choice but to love the state for all
the wrong reasons, all the right devils. Austin, a great
collection of buildings and people, department stores and taco joints
made famous by television shows. Concerts every
night, great dancing to music made by resequencing spoken word samples
of the relatives of murder victims
at various trials, drum loops beneath.
Stars are gazing through the veil
of pollution and light that Houston generates
like breath. I have met women in Houston, and I have
met men. I have slept uneasily
on one side of the bed, unsure if my heat should invade my partner. To grab,
to hold. When to kiss and when to hold it.
everybody knows each other, everybody knows great
sin, the inner workings of political systems, endless columns
without walls, roofs. Texas, a colorful moment
clicking comfortably against the other states. I have
a car and I have invaded many parts
of Texas. Dallas,
a clean city, a shopping mall, a sports franchise; San
Antonio a museum; Galveston a popular tomb. Fort
Worth, Nacogdoches, Texarkana, Cairo.
Lights are on still,
in all the buildings in all of the Texas downtowns,
it's a comfort, somebody is working, some
thing needs to get done, family on the periphery.
What to pick or when to push it, the devils
we've accepted by assent or silence. My neighbor has died
but I always rushed inside to avoid helping her up
the stairs with her groceries.
The homeless scenery. The children starving.
I turn down a road and I'm astonished by the cityscape stuck
flat on the horizon, elaborate monoliths of steel and glass. People
are working in the Great Southwest, but maybe it's just the night
cleaning crew, maybe everybody else rushed home on time
to meet up for dinner, for drinks, to be involved
in a moment of human connection. Lights against
the night sky, constellations we could draw on the skyline
different each night. A banking skyscraper has shaped
their remaining lights to form a five pointed star across
their facade, the Astros' symbol.
Lights are still on
but maybe nobody's working,
the switch forgotten by the last person out in a rush
with keys and bag, or they're on timers, going on
and off hourly. Speed it up,
windows between us on the ground and the lights
in the buildings, windows designed to protect us from only the smallest dangers.
Glenn Shaheen is the author of the poetry collection Predatory (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011), and the flash collection Unchecked Savagery (Ricochet Editions, 2012). His work has appeared in Ploughshares, The New Republic, The Cincinnati Review, and elsewhere. He lives in Michigan, where he edits the journal NANO Fiction.