D. Nurkse

San Isidro

On a bridge over the Pace Freeway

a junkie held a knife to my throat

and said: your coat has many pockets.

I took it off very slowly,

the cars passing under me.

I was sure nothing could go wrong

while I was trying to help.

His voice was slurred

as if by great distance

but the blade was steady.

I began telling him a story:

how I’d hitchhiked from Pueblo to Cheyenne

looking for work, and found a job

painting the white lines in the road.

I could feel the prick of the blade

against my adam’s apple. I thought:

if you’re telling this story,

you must live through it.

Somewhere there was a cricket.

The bridge rocked constantly.

He held the jacket between his legs,

extracted the billfold with one hand,

counted the money with a sidelong glance.

He nodded, as if there were a sum 

I owed him, and moved back a step

to let me pass. Then I feared him:

I was no longer entirely at his mercy.

I waited. Traffic passed.

There were snatches of music

and voices telling the news.

I said I was waiting for a friend

who was to meet me at dawn.

He answered: there is no one,

but he’d begun to back away

with the coat under his arm,

ten steps between us, twenty,

and I was on the other side:

a street of shops that seemed miniature,

the lamps still lit though it was daylight.

In front of a shuttered grocery

someone had left hampers of milk and bread.

The silence was absolute.

On the grate of a cantina

there were signs for last year’s dances.

The gaunt dogs, that sniffed as they pleased,

flinched when they saw me, then caught my scent

and knew I had no power to hurt.

I walked through them as if on stilts.

I came to a phone and dialed a number.

There was a holding voice and music.

Another number: another voice, music.

I had no more change. I looked behind me.

I walked quickly past tiny houses.

I smelled toast and heard children arguing.

A sprinkler winced, despite the drought.

I could hear the clink of a tame dog

moving on a chain, clearing its throat to bark.

I broke into a run. Already

I could hear the hum of the next huge road.

D. Nurkse

 D.  Nurkse

D. Nurkse's most recent books are Burnt Island (2005) and The Fall (2003).  He is twice the recipient of an National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, along with many other awards and fellowships.

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