Last of the Barbary Lions
There’s no Hippocratic Oath for vets;
in this world a man is what morals make him. I’m indentured to a thug
with a pocket full of mobile phones,
two weeks into a handshake pact of pills and powders.
I’ve been paid to wait, collude
in the plaza haze, my feet
kicking alleys of August wind.
Perched on a stool in Calle Melo’s limestone glower,
watching ocean and sea blur in the Strait.
I’m doling tablets to door knocks,
cutting chorizo with a necktie knife; listing
on a nightly lullaby of horse tranquillisers.
I breathe in the dry air, breath out
a stem of opioid desire
and settle at the bar,
petals in my mouth.
This is my last night swallowing broken Spanish,
feet on the solstice line
a half step ahead of winter shade.
The ferries from Morocco
are on endless loop, red hulls
split sky and sea.
In a warehouse on the far side of town,
beyond the dunes,
the heat buckles around
a canvas bag of meds. My next stop
when word comes.
And when I flee
even the jawbone of this harbour won’t uttermy name.
At Café Pensione,
eyes bent on evening, I wait for gambling
border guards to pass under the archway
into old town, their footfallsannounceevening.
My phone will ring. They will call.
There’s a car we’ll share to Jerez
and in the back seat I’ll examine the cubs;
one will be bleeding from a nostril.
From the darkening alley each shadow hides
a furred bundle.
Lion cubs are en route
from the Atlas Mountains, they’ve flinch-dreamed
lapped water drawn from stagnant dams.
Lion cubs don’t purr, they strip bones,
rubble growl, paw feline terror in cloth. If they come to me
they’ll be bundled against the warmth of a border guard’s chest,
needled to sleep, tarnished gold
fur barely breathing.
Headlights lean a path
through night. Palm
fronds search the sky for a moon. I have a word
written on my arm. We’re hours
There are numbers to call.
Someone has tattooed LIONS on my forearm.
I’m trying to wash it off in the Atlantic.
My sunglasses are salt splashed
I’m rancid with thirst, my cut-off jeans
flap in the waves, the only shirt I own is a story
the Levante tells my skin.
I limp a bent line to the day bars,
they’re cracking first beers and playing
Macklemoreon repeat through portable speakers. I nod
to the hepped-up flow. I know every nook
on this earth is white-washed with pallid graffiti.
We tap fingers to what we despise.
In any city, in every tongue, we walk toward the heat of morning
a face in the window yawning abuse
grown men grip boredom in fists
traffic lights change
feet in tangled unison
a milk crate kicked
the street fills with tatters
peals of light
streamers caught on shoulders and carried
future spills onto Bourke Street
wearing glitter shorts
a feathered headdress
the lost child of a thousand incandescent gatherings
i’ve been sleeping at a bus stop
to catch my sense before daylight
an intoxicated logarithm
the pinpoint dance
a satellite tracks above the sky
fine-tuned geometry of a courting ritual
i hear a car gunning
toward the red light
a bottle telling its arch story
to the dawn air
there’s two lifetimes
in the way light contorts on glass
in the dazzle I see
every bed we share
each joyful laceration written from this moment
LA River: 94% Concrete 6% Water
LA River is a trickle
desperation cutting the counterculture smog,
this pre-dawn it’s serrated, we watch for melody
on the surface.
All we know
about the river comes from films
& the screeching danger of Los Santos.
The concrete banks are hollowed
with stormwater outlets,
drains at odd intervals, broad enough
to house a convention of misfits.
Some of us are sifting
last night through sunglasses. We’ve forgotten
our names, there’s a guitar player
without a guitar,
a boy beatboxing his way
to the lip of the stormwater drain.
We’re huddled in this echoing cylinder,
desert sand rough in every word we say.
Twice a day we keen prophecies.
Waters are coming,
there’s a pulse along Santiago Peak’s antenna-speared spine.
Inland snows have been melting;
the sea is finger-waving at desert sands, there’s too much sting in the sunlight,
the hills are on fire
we’re caught in the middle —
January’s blue fingers in our pockets.
We’ve all been riffing on this concrete river
some of us with a Bell Creek back beat
some hyping Arroyo Calabases.
We’ve got cheeks full of syllables. We’re straining them
The roads start to fill. 18 wheelers rumble
over the high-pitched whine of trail bikes
We want to stand on Hyperion Bridge,
watch the hills burn and live stream the end of times, see ash
falling from the flushed morning.
Before the sun finds today’s answer
water will come flooding down the drains
waist deep with a cargo of crimes.
I’m taking my shoes off
and walking from the stormwater drain
over the edge, down the concrete slope
and into the city’s trashed-up arterial.
There’s no rain in the place we’ve invented
or there’s too much rain and fire
that can’t be extinguished;
fault lines that tip this city off the coast.
We’re smaller players,
in a jungle made of glass.
We tune guitars to hide the sound of people twitching
their last moments.
Our lives are the mystery
and talk our bodies into silence.
Rico Craig is a teacher, writer, and award-winning poet whose work melds the narrative, lyrical and cinematic, using unexpected images and voices to investigate the transformative passions and regrets of modern life. Craig is published widely; his poetry collection BONE INK was winner of the 2017 Anne Elder Award and shortlisted for the Kenneth Slessor Poetry Prize 2018. To find recent writing visit twitter.com/RicoCraig