“The Thing on the Corner”

“The Thing on the Corner”
© 2013 by Michael L. Utley

The thing on the corner
That squalid revenant
That only I could see
As my daily peregrination
Took me through the city
Past vulgar monuments
To capitalism and greed
Through roiling seas of
Soulless apathetic drones
The mindless rhythm of
The ebb and flow of futility

The thing on the corner
That filthy phantom
That caught my eye
And no one else’s
A sort of uncanny gravity
About him
That caused my pace to slacken
As if I were being lured into
Some kind of anomalous orbit
Around this peculiar specter
Just a tug and then I was free
To continue along my way
In my daylight world of
Noise and glare and stench

The thing on the corner
That wretched eidolon
That haunted my dreams
That stood in judgment of
All who passed before him
On this unremarkable corner
In this forgotten city of despair
The bastard kin of
Minos, Aeacus and Rhadamanthus
His throne a decrepit cardboard box
His shroud a blanket that reeked of
Age and disease
His crown a greasy scarecrow of gray hair

The thing on the corner
That defiled shade
That I can barely see as
I approach him
He is a mirage
A flicker and a shimmer
I squint my eyes as I stand before him
There is static, a signal dying
Over the expanse of eternity
An imperceptible howl from
Another universe
I reach out a tentative hand
And touch him
For an instant he is there before me
Vital and filled with the
Energy of supernovas
His eyes are alive and
Radiate truth the brightness
Of a hundred suns
He is real
He does not speak but
Only looks at me
For a moment
For a lifetime
Then turns away
And fades to

And the oblivious masses mill
Through the city streets like cattle
To the slaughter
And the city sighs
As anesthetic night descends


© 2013 by Michael L. Utley

The kid was too young
This distant uncanny boy
Face absconded
Into the murky depths of his
Drenched and threadbare
Crimson hoodie
Eyes mere pinpricks
Of sentience in the shadows
Where his face should be
On this pouring midnight
Sidewalk where even the rain seemed
Exhausted in the scornful cones
Of streetlamp illumination
And unseen clouds sighed above
Too tired for the bluster and pretense
Of thunder
And he sat there in this mess of a night
On a bench where no bus would ever stop
For anyone at anytime for any reason
Staring into the distance at both
Something and nothing at once
Moveless save for an occasional shiver
Waiting for someone or something
Or perhaps nothing at all

His shoes were soaking wet
Those black hi-tops iridescent
From rain and gutter filth
His dark spidery fingers
Loomed together in some
Cryptic pattern on his lap
Where rainwater pooled and eddied before
Dispersing first through his skinny legs
Then between the filthy slats of the bench
To merge with the noisy gutter rill
And then with the sewage below
And then the poisonous river
And then the darkness of the ocean
Of some other universe

And I passed him in the rain
Of that eternal night as I made
My own way into my own darkness
And I thought of some worried mother
Sitting at some rickety kitchen table
Bathed in the sickly yellow glow of a naked
Tungsten bulb
Haunted eyes fixed somewhere
Beyond the weeping window panes
Hands wringing in some unconscious
Talismanic effort of projected protection
For some lost child some prodigal son
Out there alone in the rain
And I couldn’t decide if she was
The boy’s mother
Or my own

And then my blackness
Was interrupted by a voice
Behind me
Not that of a man
Yet not that of a child
And I stopped and turned
And the kid was there
And in his outstretched hands
He held a soaked and faded
Red hoodie and a pair of
Sopping black hi-tops
And his eyes were calm
And his face shone in the rain
And he didn’t say a word
He just pointed at my own
Bare feet and my freezing body
And then he was gone
His own bare footprints
Lingering momentarily on the sidewalk
Before the rain took them away


© 2013 by Michael L. Utley

I saw Odysseus sprawled on the sidewalk between
The squalid little deli and the boarded-up
All-night video place whose weather-stained
Posters advertised GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS
Amid obtuse indecipherable graffiti and
A fallen constellation of multi-hued shards of
Broken glass that crunched underfoot like
Bone fragments
The patina of snow about him
Pristine in its absence of footprints from
Passers-by as if the stench of his
Existence had formed an unseen barrier
A half-moon DMZ buffering
His world from ours
And ours from his
And seemed to accelerate those who passed
As if sling-shotting them along their snowy
Midnight trajectories by means of his own
Anomalous gravity
And he was invisible
This shivering, coughing Odysseus
This Odysseus of ancient rheumy eyes and
Filth-caked garb of indeterminate color and
Dirty twitching fingers destroyed by age and arthritis
That latched onto
Nothingness in the inhuman chill
Of this strange distant land
Far from home

I saw Odysseus standing on the corner
Across from the new shopping mall with
Hundreds of stores and a garish
Sign filling up half the blazing summer sky
The color of which no one noticed as they
Funneled mindlessly into the parking lot of sticky asphalt
Eager to rid themselves of their wealth
Like lemmings compelled by the inexorable call
Of the briny deep
This sun-stroked Odysseus’ sign
Garnered far less attention
And like some weird contrary magnetism it
Served only to avert the eyes of eager shoppers
Whose cash-bulging wallets held no alms
This day or any other day for anyone
With the temerity the gall the nerve
To spoil the festive mood of capitalism
And he was invisible
This gaunt, silent Odysseus
This Odysseus of haunted eyes the shade of
Tortured youth and abandonment
An aura about him that described an intimate ken
Of the black brackish hearts of fathers
Who show their children love by means of
The belt the closed fist the bruise the shattered bone
His outstretched hand unseen, voided
In the swelter and exhaust fumes
Of this strange distant land
Far from home

I saw Odysseus posed beneath the arc-sodium glare
Of streetlights in stilettos and not much else
As vehicles prowled the night like hungry panthers
Purring as they edged up to the curb to test their prey
Whose prayers, if any, went unanswered day by day
Whose god was the black tar of forgetfulness
Purchased nightly with the currency of her body
And she leaned hesitantly into the maw of the predator
A deal done through open-windowed anonymity
Then undone moments later amid an avalanche
Of raucous laughter and filthy epithets
As the panther sprang from the curb in search of other prey
Stranding her alone in the antiseptic wash
Of the indifferent streetlights that left her feeling
All the more dirty
And she was invisible
This trembling, empty Odysseus
This Odysseus of painted eyes the shame of which
No amount of camouflage could veil
The craving in her veins an all-out roar
Obliterating everything
Tears gone eons ago
Fear driving her like some twisted dynamo
Toward the blackness of the next fix
Or the grave
In this strange distant land
Far from home

I saw Odysseus pronated on the center stripe
Of a dark desert highway
Leather-gloved hands folded neatly on leather-clad breast
As four cops stood chatting idly above him like distracted pallbearers
His motorcycle a hundred feet away in a thousand pieces
His helmet still attached and useless
As the shield of a fallen warrior
A mere formality at this point
The silent ambulance en route with idiot lights flashing
To scoop this thing off the road and deposit it
Somewhere else
And he was invisible
This stilled, hushed Odysseus
This Odysseus of black leather and broken body
Who would soon cease to be a nuisance to the cops
And become a nuisance to the coroner
And then to the earth itself
And then forgotten
Just some meaningless blip on the back page
Of the next day’s paper where the anonymous
Go to die
In this strange distant land
Far from home

I have seen Odysseus at the hospital stitched with tubes
A human loom
I have seen Odysseus in the dim hallways of high school
Eyes glued to the floor in a gauntlet of cat-calls
I have seen Odysseus unconscious in the shade of an oak in the city park
Reeking of cheap booze and excrement
I have seen Odysseus on dusty shoulders of forgotten highways
Faded signs in hand that say Albuquerque or Denver or Phoenix
I have seen Odysseus in the bleachers of baseball games
On county road crews in supermarkets in churches
In unemployment lines in bars in prisons
In the mirror

Everywhere I look he is there
Trying to find his way back

In this strange distant land
Far from home