Evening Will Come: A Monthly Journal of Poetics (The Art of Losing—Issue 58, October 2015)

Two Poems

The Mural

Here’s my name. The stand of purple thistles

partly hides some of us, growing

from the crack between the sidewalk and the cement wall,

right at the spot down low where we signed ourselves,

Mural Crew, then our names in a sloppy stack.

Here I am: Mischa Benevides-Chan

just above Debbie and below Giancarlo—

where are they? Where are all of them?

Ten of us that summer—the City got us from school

to decorate the north side of the underpass:

‘to beautify the neighborhood and express

the local culture’, something like that,

a project in those days, dropped with the next election,

I think. We must have all been in art

in the high schools around there. We knew each other

a little, in twos and threes. It was a stupid project

but we flew with it. Kids—nothing like

the magic they can get out of some idea

grown-ups come up with for them, sitting around

yawning. In the shaking and noise of the trains

going over us every five minutes, we caught on fire.

I never had such friends as that summer.

Doesn’t look to me now like we had any talent:

it’s just crummy children’s art, like a five-year-old

drawing a house, a tree and the sun

in crayons. And yet, it’s not. How they grew, I remember,

out of our laughing, talking, out of our fingers—

the line of boxes, some with peaked roofs,

to stand for the long rows of stores and houses,

with the business names badly printed in black

on the untrue brightness of the facades, the atom-bomb

fire in the colors. Turn around, look up down

the street and the cross streets—most of the models

are still here: the liquor store, the yummy bar-B-cue,

the Turkish pizza place, Jenny’s Tavern with the old

scrawny white guy smoking outside, the rec center

with its little garden of flowers and benches. I think

the same posters, a bit more sun-faded,

are still pasted in the window of the beauty parlor,

the same sign for braided extensions, the same list

of the same cheap prices. How our stick figures,

red, blue, green, purple, jump

and dance along the roofs,

arms spread—stars, starfish—they seem to be running

like lovers seeing their lovers suddenly,

running into the arms of our huge floating flowers

that look to me like leaves, mouths kissing

or calling, like comets the gold-hot day

of our sun, up in the corner, doesn’t veil

but brings out to swim with it through the blue

check marks of birds and black crosses

of the poles, to help it with the day.

We’d kneel painting and hear the streetcars whoosh

just behind our backs, and ideas, satisfaction,

questions and new ideas spilled

back and forth as we looked straight ahead and drew

on the white cement with its one figure,

“1953”, engraved high up above us

in an oblong box. Every one of them

left this neighborhood and went beyond

my knowing. Like my husband did later. Probably

like my sullen druggie kid will soon. I was thinking

of sneaking back here at night sometime

with a bottle of black and a thin brush and rubber gloves

for pushing the thistles back, and repainting

the fading names. But then I thought: there’s never

nobody out on this street, and a chittering line

of toddlers went by me, roped together, with their teenage

counselors in lavender t-shirts

wrangling them to the lakefront or some park,

and I said to myself: let it be as it is.


Made into a statue of yourself,

cool and hard, nobly impassible,

but at the jointures where gray lips

and blue lids have been closed,

a slight wimpling and crumble as of poor

workmanship. Dressed by others,

collar too large, skirt too straight.

By others made up, you

who had no need to make up, who did not scorn,

who merely never thought

to make up. Lying,

a statue vandalized or mannequin

in storage. Something that stays after

but not merely: that slightly

trembles, silken, catching in unquiet

the low light.