Under the bridge, a city of blue
tarps ripples like a child imagines
water. The snow flutters down
like dove feathers, burnt moths,
coats their azure waves like sea foam.
A perfect pastoral. I’m sorry
this is a lie. It never snows here
but the image is so much
prettier if I don’t say ash,
if I don’t mention the plastic
bags filled with chemical flakes.
No matter how I cut this
story, there is always powder
gathered, off-white, at the hem
of the mouth. No matter
which version I choose to tell
you, this image could still
kill me. Late fall, the foothills are ablaze
& each river is wedding-dressed
in steam, but under every bridge
in this city, the winter arrived
years ago. It’s never left. Here,
the distance between a sleeping
bag & body bag reduces down
to just temperature & chemistry.
I won’t tell you about the nights
spent there, buying, selling, half
-sleeping while a cement heaven
bent above me under the weight
of passing headlights. Illuminating
a field of fluorescent bottles, syringes
like stretched out stars. Down here,
each depressed plunger is a broken dam,
emptied concept of a home, a man-
made flood. Beneath the skin, blue
rivers twist. A needle plunged
beneath the surface, spills synthetic
joy. Pond of ripples frozen mid-wave.
All the fish choke on the sudden heavy
of their gills. Pollution, a sharp glint
hooked in the throat. The rivers brittle
& collapse. Lips cracked & needle-blissed,
a friend sleeps in the arroyo’s ash-flecked dust
& will not wake. Fresno river—an open grave.
I have only seen this river flow three times.
A sudden mud-gray thunder. The color of rats
after rain. It spilled from every gutter,
drenched lawns, flooded streets, & returned
each sacrifice we had given it. Clots gathering
an exodus back to the heart. Car tires, green
tipped syringes, pocket change, condom
wrappers, bullet casings, rusted bike
chains & snapped skateboards, a family
dog’s bones wrapped in so much white
plastic you could almost mistake them
for a child’s ghost.