The Return

by Laurie Sheck

And then he entered the city: in the old stories,
when the hero returns, it is clear where the city begins-
he walks through the arched gateway
cut through the surrounding walls, and he is home.
But now it is more a matter of thinness and thickness:
doorways crowd toward each other like perilous hunched
windows harden and multiply, vertical and bright.

Here the sky is reddish brown at nightfall
beneath what we still think of as the stars.
Newspapers blow in gutters,
the drained faces of victims and statesmen
press against the pavement, smudged. Or their hands
are lost in the rainbowed oil of passing cars;
the black ink bleeds.

And the people are passing, the crowd of them, so busy,
as if we were still alive-are we alive?
Maybe a questionnaire will lead us to some answer.
lt wants to know: How many push-button phones do you have?
Do you use call forward? Have you purchased a phone
within the last six months?

The skyscrapers rise pale green and silver
as if nothing could ever make them burn.
The phones lie in their cradles, sleeping.
I meant to call when I arrived;
is your name still buried in the phone book under "A,"
pressed between the other, similar last names,
laid down there in print deep black as the wires
that carry one human voice to another?
Someone has painted black shadows, human, groping,
eyeless on this alley's dirty walls.
I touch each faceless face, like frost.

Last updated February 23, 2023