was what the Gnostics meant
by potential. After the hurricane
the stumps of trees waving us on…
Their butcher paper smiles: bored girls
outside a club’s skinny entrance.
We’ve got a lead from a clerk
at the record store re: the best
harmonica player in town.
These girls have t-shirts almost
to their g-strings. It’s worse to look away
and then back. Kafka wrote literature
must be an axe to break
the frozen sea within but he asked
his wife to burn his papers.
I don’t know if Caitlin, my friend
and neighbor, hears my wife and I in bed,
yelling at each other. We make up
too quietly. Most of my secrets
people know about
are fairly mundane. JS Mill said
he’d prefer to be Socrates unhappy
than a pig content.
I’ve heard girls Caitlin has
brought home. At first I couldn’t
place the sound. I closed my window,
put my book down. JS Mill
would have been sorry he’d gone blind
before coming to New Orleans.
Why there is a blessing for randomly seeing
a beautiful person on the street.
Circe wasn’t evil for turning men
to pigs but for leaving them
their reason. Look, but don’t—
Wash over us, thinning night, Bourbon
Street humid as spring touching
a wet flower the highway covered
until the last storm. The Gnostics
make me feel less bad about self-knowledge.
That was kind of their thing.
They thought this power could exist
in everyone but potentially, not actually.
Bored girls sink into their smiles.
Drunken books bob under the ice.
Highways peel away. We follow
a harmonica playing, can almost hear it.
Night swaggers like a blank rose open
in a tattoo on a girl’s neck.
Dan saw a car skid out on the other side
of the highway. Just hit some black ice,
the barrier, engulf itself in flames. He had a kind
of existential crisis about not being able
to stop and help. About not stopping
and helping. A kind of existential crisis?
I want to know which kind. Snow
dancing in the wind off the frozen lake,
shadow calligraphy, spring supposedly
on its way. Fish waiting beneath the surface
of the water. I would secure my oxygen mask first,
before I’d help the person next to me, I say,
but that’s okay. That’s the right thing to do.
I thought what I’d said would get through.
I need help now, Dan says. Kids wander
further onto the water. Dan believes in ghosts
because he hasn’t been haunted by one.
What if it was you, Dan says, sitting next to me
on the plane, and I secured my oxygen mask first?
I want to hold his hand with my brain.
But after that, I say, then you’d help me.
photo credit: Lauren Gottlieb-Miller