This poem, “The Other Side of Town,” I had written in 2005. I was inspired by a Stephen Dobyns’ poem, “The Street,” which was inspired by a painting of the same name by Balthus in 1933. For Professor Frost’s poetry workshop, we had to write poetry inspired by pictures/paintings. This was essentially my response/sequel/whatever to Dobyns.
I copied and pasted Dobyns’ work immediately below. I had to Google it to successfully find it here: http://english.emory.edu/classes/paintings&poems/street.html. I have to cite, so I can cover my ass.
However, my poem can be found below it.
Across the street, the carpenter carries a golden
board across one shoulder, much as he bears the burdens
of his life. Dressed in white, his only weakness is
temptation. Now he builds another wall to screen him.
The little girl pursues her bad red ball, hits it once
with her blue racket, hits it once again. She must
teach it the rules balls must follow and it turns her
quite wild to see how it leers at her, then winks.
The oriental couple wants always to dance like this:
swirling across a crowded street, while he grips
her waist and she slides to one knee and music rises
from cobblestones–some days Ravel, some days Bizet.
The departing postulant is singing to herself. She
has seen the world’s salvation asleep in a cradle,
hanging in a tree. The girl’s song makes
the sunlight, makes the breeze that rocks the cradle.
The baker’s had half a thought. Now he stands like a pillar
awaiting another. He sees white flour falling like snow,
covering people who first try to walk, then crawl,
then become rounded shapes: so many loaves of bread.
The baby carried off by his heartless mother is very old and
for years has starred in silent films. He tries to explain
he was accidentally exchanged for a baby on a bus, but he can
find no words as once more he is borne home to his awful bath.
First the visionary workman conjures a great hall, then
he puts himself on the stage, explaining, explaining:
where the sun goes at night, where flies go in winter, while
attentive crowds of dogs and cats listen in quiet heaps.
Unaware of one another, these nine people circle around
each other on a narrow city street. Each concentrates
so intently on the few steps before him, that not one
can see his neighbor turning in exactly different,
yet exactly similar circles around them: identical lives
begun alone, spent alone, ending alone–as separate
as points of light in a night sky, as separate as stars
and all that immense black space between them.
by Chris Malone
ten other strangers fulfill their lives with daily habits,
ignoring what everyone else is doing, because
it’s all meaningless to them.
The key to life hangs on the wall so
blatant that it fools them all. They mill
about in their pestilent lives with beggars
and crybabies, ignoring the subliminal stop-and-enjoy.
Everyone may wonder why the caged bird does not sing.
It’s simply because she is confused, cloaked by the false night,
yet hearing the ado of daytime. She hangs patiently, whispering
to herself, caged behind metal bars next to an open window.
if she stops. Her wretched body topped by a humped hill
is supported by a feeble shaft, bending with each push
of pressure. She’ll continue for that sweet Metamucil.
Youth is what she admires, robbing the cradle with her
baby-faced beau; shaved heads are the latest fad. His jealous brother
holds up his pants with lust and desire as a red, neon “A” reflects in his eyes.
with a naked doll. Beauty was never meant to be hidden as she
peels the sheer gown off her baby, mockingly. The doll stands on
a pedestal for all to see the divine beauty before the first original sin.
stands confused, bearing an opportunity for
the next generation. She questions if it will make a difference?
Whatever she decides will destroy what’s inside of her.
on what to do next. He sits, shaking like a wet child who raised
out of the bathtub on a cool winter’s night. The thoughts are there, but transpire
through the pores of a barren skull. It hurts him too much to move.
carries a stick of pepperoni from the deli. He places in front of the dog,
who jumps at the opportunity for a snack, but pulls it away. The dog
follows the man home, to be fed and locked in the basement for another run-a-way.
lies a dead end. The end of the world, some may say—
it’s the house of the rust, coating society, oxidizing
and extending from this armpit, soaring to spread over the land.