All Commentary
Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Black River

Before the fast food signs dull their yellows
and reds for the day, before the cars cover

the pot-holed, buckled roads, the city belongs
to this man walking alone, wearing a suit,

a costume to cover his homelessness. Samsonite
in hand, he recites his daughter’s phone number,

stringing the twos and fours like prayer beads.
He passes by an iron sculpture of a man half-

sunk in the sidewalk, rowing a boat.
It slows time until it’s almost yesterday.

Nearby, a woman brushes her teeth in a bank’s
fountain. He waits to see if she spits. She does.

Yes, this sculpture is yesterday, the lead
man’s knuckle big and hard as his head.

There is never a next shore. Never a new.
Never a daughter who suddenly forgives.

To be sure, he checks the morning’s obituaries.
Two men died older than he. Two younger.

Beside him, road’s warped asphalt could almost
be mistaken for ripples in a black river.

  • Charlotte Pence’s first full-length poetry collection, Spike, is forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press. A professor of English and creative writing at Eastern Illinois University, she is the editor of The Poetics of American Song Lyrics (University Press of Mississippi, 2012).