At five o’clock in the morning, a moan rises from the street
into my apartment and I can’t help it, I go out, search for a face
among the dumpsters. In the distance, a dissonant music,
the dregs of some late party. When I find him, silence
hangs so heavily on him, I think he’s dead, but then a muffled Coffee?
and a hand reaching out from the shadows,
palm bared as though to say I exist in peace. He stays hidden in shadow,
but when I ask why he’s lying behind a car in the street,
his voice, rough as the long-unshaven lines of his face,
pours out in starts and stops, an odd human music
lifted from his Cuban aunt, Brazilian grandfather who died in silence
in an alley in Santos, his mother who brewed coffee
stronger than the men she kept about. When I hand him a cup of coffee,
he cries, and I think how strange it is what people will tell in the shadow
of a dumpster, wonder why anyone would lie down in the street.
Maybe they cart me off, too. His face
twists as though he’s chewing on laughter, but I can’t make this music
with him in the slow unraveling silence
of the dawn. Death usually makes for uncomfortable silences
between friends, much less strangers. Over coffee,
I tell him how often I have loved shadow,
and he tells of his travels through the streets
of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago. The world’s dark face
opens its great blind eye to a city pale with cold and little music
at this early hour, save for what spoons and old cans make. Music
in my blood, he croons into the now bird-bedecked silence
rimmed with our breath and the steam from the coffee.
I know that I can step away from shadow
at any moment, leave the narrow street
so many walk alone, like him, this man whose face
so close to mine smells of whiskey and sorrow. You got the face
of an angel, he cries, so you must know music.
I let him sing the strains of his blood, though voices call for silence
now, too early still for anything more than the pop and hiss of coffee,
the dance of bodies whose shadows
gleam and bounce on the pocked surface of the street
where we stand, face to face, thinking how to leave the streets
and their shadows behind. What dull gifts – coffee
and silence – we give to those who’d make of the world a jangling music.