for Jennie C. Jones
The magic parts before they were burned-up and vacuumed.
A sound so light as if no one was there at all.
Your body a buffer between the same word said at the same time, and other hyper jinx chances.
The dust-up made the light look more gray than green.
Time was opened-up wider then, so wide in fact that even now it isn’t all the way shut.
Horns, sirens, and acoustic panels. Plenty of Three People Can Keep a Secret, if Two Are Dead Stories to go around.
A late and great string quartet playing in the next room.
I couldn't tell where the music was coming from, and I didn’t care.
I was back in high school practicing a clarinet concerto.
And for months, upended by the harp on the headphones in the Chopin waltz.
Walkman freewheeling Sony Walkman—
And only one other person in the world.
It does not matter where we fell in, we did.
What they called AC/DC I called AC/DC. Though Monk wasn’t Monk, he was MONK: avuncular, like an uncle with no glass in his glasses, poking his fingers in to show us.
Not silence, but the stillness of the world; and yet even being still didn’t mean you couldn’t scratch your nose.
How once you heard the sound of water running under a heavy manhole cover. The Great Spirit echoing in the old city pipes; the ghost river running under Allegheny Avenue.
Not sound, but the fact of sound.
Not sound or the fact of sound, but the fact of sound after the sound was gone.
Hell-Dusted Blue Jeans
The Great Plains were over filled with blue jeans.
During the war, the sky was filled with blue jeans.
Was I making up this story? some voice wanted to know.
The corners of the mouth. In high school I worked at the Gap
selling jeans, corduroys, Mountain Dew. Provisions of nourishment.
Call of Duty, Mass Effect video games had colonized my
central nervous system. A frame without a mirror to tell
my fate, I continued a hum along. Like the Great Depression,
each person blaming him or herself for their own ruin.
The stories are all there.
Cold Fingers Light the Way
I read Bill’s essay on Ray, it was 100% Bill / 100% Ray.
Walked in the rain and got very soaked.
The old photocopy had surfaced from a personal slush pile
in the dark lake of the TV room where I had been hiding.
If anyone asked, I would have said I had been following the news.
But it was more than that. I was consumed. I put my stamp on that.
For much of Bill’s life he had been in the New York Correspondence School:
envelopes, photocopied GUM BALLS For Sale, and at least one secret love.
I will incorporate the letters that seem appropriate in this letter which will be
waiting for you when you return—
To the end he had a full head of white hair, stood 6’3” in his stocking feet.
And sharp words for Chelsea and all else that had gone “berserk.”
“Scratches show the surface as the surface,” more notes scribbled down. Elsewhere looking at the views as if I were seeing the feeling I longed to see and to feel.
A turn and a half-dozen more—Bill’s limpid prompt to his correspondent
to find the courage to their own tenderness.
Envelope as a vehicle of its own. Another printed in Sharpie to WILIAM S. WILSON from RAY JOHNSON. Direct about their indirections and home.
The letters of each name, a plot as much as they are instruction for those who would bury the dead. Speaking in sweeping monologues to all of the living-room shades. King Lear of the Chesapeake, standing and gesturing in my mind, and signing-off in an email: “I cannot draw a cart, nor eat dried oats. If it be man’s work, I’ll do ’t.”
Memory Corkscrews So You Can’t Remember It
I make my prayers in another part of the city,
but they keep blowing back.
At the end of the year something
called Sneaker Day,
Swedish Fish and tail pipes in the breeze.
Two kids jamming 300 Styrofoam cups into
a chain-link fence, spelling-out R U N right along
the green way.
Too young to drive, but opinions carried weight.
The first day of the Cadillac, that first week,
the whole summer, brilliant sunbeads after the rain:
the two-toned Charcoal Caddie.
Jerry Vale came in to get his haircut.
And did they still wear the ponytail style?
Eventually there was a car, a hobbled Pinto,
cheap and easy to park. Driving circles
around one another,
you can run yourself over.
Eating lunch, C said she wouldn’t say things
like that, but she wasn’t telling me not to,
but maybe don’t. I had pizza and a lemonade.
All rumors reset in a blaze, prophecies
of another space and age.
Did the Night Shift and Day Shift ever speak
to each other again?
The year with little talking, but music
coming from the blue car booming inside out—
all the live long day; a pulse more than a sound.
There would be no outside then.
Even the river ran more quietly, the FM radio
streaming more smoothly over the stream.
You almost had to get your ear wet to hear.
Warmly and firmly it said Get out. And don’t
you ever come back here again.
How many Mars miles ago was that?
Most of Tomorrow
No socks, no Bill, my glasses,
and old No. 2. For the past two weeks on every list
I had his name. “I’ll be around most of tomorrow,”
Bill said. And the rest of the time, where? No. 2
added a word or two: annual blood test, sibling made
close and breathing throughout, wish I could eavesdrop,
a line disappearing from his mouth a title, a tune:
Saturday Night. Moon People. Goods and Services.
Repeat after Me. Expect Delays. Portrait and Dream.
Dear Bill. I have a picture of your note in your hand,
it was bruised all over. There’s no concealing a hand.
I don’t know about that, I can hear him say:
Oh yes you can, oh boy I do, in rich middle tones.
A profile in exile, view over the bay at Cassis.
His friend the journalist from Burgundy, and the cold white
of the white still gives a chill.
Found it back in New Jersey for $120 and considered it.
Now most of tomorrow has been gone for days, yet
the part that was away from the start is still here,
first-hand and near: “Back around 9.”
Nine. Nine. Nine will be fine.
Thomas Devaney is the author of six books, including Getting to Philadelphia (Hanging Loose Press, 2019), You Are the Battery (Black Square Editions, 2019), and The Picture that Remains, a collaboration with photographer Will Brown (The Print Center, 2014). He wrote and co-directed the film Bicentennial City (2020), which is an exploration of the legacy of Philadelphia’s 1976 Bicentennial celebration. Devaney is a Pew Fellow in the Arts and published in Best American Poetry and the Brooklyn Rail. The lit hub Blue Stoop : A Home for Philly was named after his poem “The Blue Stoop.” Devaney teaches creative writing at Haverford College and works at the Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation at Drexel University.