Poem: “The lost tribes”

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Poem: “The lost tribes”

 

The lost tribes

 

for Haki Madhubuti

 

 

I found the lost tribes

in America, eating fries with city workers

at the McDonald’s on Western Avenue.

 

I found them

sport-shopping at Gurnee Mills.

 

I found them

in the bleak hours

on Ecclesiastes Road,

in the cathedral’s unused confessionals,

in the self-help section at the public library,

after the wait,

under the weight,

over the rainbow,

up the street,

dedicated to the proposition,

under the gun

during the workshop on neighborhood crime.

 

I found them

with Colonel Mustard

in the library

with the rope.

 

I found the lost tribes

in that river bend where garbage

collects, amid the splayed newspapers

and dead fish and truck tires and

basketballs and plastic bags and

condom snakeskins and lost souls

and bitter winners and empty milk

cartons and broken rosaries and

gasoline sheen and abandoned virgins

and abandoned promises and a single

shopping cart loaded with rusted chicken

wire, sodden stuffed animals and my sins.

 

I found them

hiding behind the talking heads

with the sound off.

 

I found them

in the purple noise of the laugh track,

hellbent for distraction.

 

I found them

staring off into space from their courtroom pew.

 

I found them

misspelled

in Executive Order footnotes.

 

I found them

with sad sack Job, whining,

“I shall not know happiness again.”

 

I found the lost tribes

in the waters of the deep,

in the waters of March,

in the waters of Baptism,

in the waters of Mormon,

in the waters of oblivion,

in the Father of Waters,

in the rivers of Babylon,

in the Slough of Despond.

 

I found them

bleeding to death in Charlottesville

beneath a Dodge Challenger.

 

I found them

baked onto Hiroshima walls.

 

I found them

in the contorted body

of Big Foot frozen at Wounded Knee.

 

I found them

beheaded on television.

 

I found them

on an off-ramp of the Crosstown Expressway

where Whitman and Ginsberg were lurking

and Ferlinghetti waiting

and Zimmerman jesting

and Lennon disbelieving.

 

I found them

enrolled in Arnold’s ignorant armies.

 

I found them

amid the ashes, bones and earrings

inside Bigger’s Kenwood furnace.

 

I found them

leaning against the memory of the Wall of Respect,

gathering strength.

 

I found them,

sleeping with their heads on tables

in the chapel of the Lawrence Avenue Burger King.

 

I found them

in the shadows under the el

amid the stars of broken glass

—red, green, brown, clear—

in slanting morning sun,

epiphany grit.

 

I found them

under the Judas tree in Garfield Park.

 

I found them

ducking into the shadows for a quick one

during the Valentine’s Day circuit party

at the Uptown Theater.

 

I found them

in the depths of flooded freight tunnels under the Loop.

 

I found them

sleeping in a tent on a Clark Street sidewalk

as mist coated the concrete with ice.

 

I found them

in the act,

in the art,

in the thick roots of Nebraska prairie grass,

in the flooded New Orleans parishes

with the boys in the band,

when needed,

in the safety-razor pool in Calabasas at Gillette’s mansion,

in the vapor rising from Lake Superior at winter dawn,

in the fruit of the womb.

 

I found the lost tribes

in America,

loitering against a Boys Town wall,

in the pool at the Austin Town Hall,

walking laps at the Lincolnwood Town Center,

in the mosque in the ex-church on Granville.

 

I found them

cuddled with bubble-wrap,

pleasuring their cell phones.

 

I found them

here, there and everywhere.

 

I found them

singing Jingle Bells during hotel sex — hahahaha.

 

I found the lost tribes

afraid of bad smells,

afraid of darkness,

afraid of migrant workers,

afraid of Mohammed,

Jesus,

LeBron,

the Trumps,

afraid of travel,

afraid of fear,

of hope,

of touch,

of tax hikes,

tax breaks,

brass tacks

and taxidermy,

afraid of data,

afraid of faith,

afraid of a hole in the ozone,

the hole in the sidewalk,

the hole at the center of all things,

afraid to breathe.

 

I found the lost tribes

in my frail brother’s phone words

ten hours before his gun dance.

 

I found them

in my mother decorating her new bassinette

with my strapped-down body

before leaving the room.

 

I found them

in the oranges my stunned sister threw

against the wall

knowing the body on a Michigan morgue gurney

would never taste them.

 

I found them

in the Decalogue shalts,

in the Doxology glory,

in the plainsong Book of Common Prayer,

at Elijah’s blood-framed door,

during the Ramadan yearning,

at the Great Amen,

inside the kernel of the Alleluia,

around the salvific word,

as the world turns,

as it was and ever will be,

as an afterthought,

at the moment of transubstantiation,

of insubordination,

of indoctrination,

in the hollow heart of the bully.

 

I found them

dumb and dumber.

 

I found them

taking their ease.

 

I found them

doing the pick and roll,

doing the Watusi,

doing time.

 

I found them

like Nora’s dove,

like Abbot & Costello,

like the tinny echoes in Teddy Roosevelt’s heart,

like a rich man’s hunger,

like the last in the firing-squad line,

like sorrow’s child.

 

I found them

broken down on the highway to nowhere,

at the end of the road not taken,

in the cracks of the Yellow Brick Road,

left in the mud of Tobacco Road,

rocking at the roadhouse,

on the long and wound-up road,

doing it in the road,

following the rules of the road,

on the road again.

 

I found them

on the line between Water Works and Marvin Gardens,

past Baltic,

on the way to jail,

passing Go

on the B&O Railroad,

taking a Chance,

paying the Luxury Tax,

parking for free,

just visiting.

 

I found them

as the Requiem was sung.

 

I found them

taking an extra base.

 

I found them

under the viaduct, taking a shit.

 

I found the lost tribes

in America,

blooming within the Brooks whirlwind,

standing next to Uriah, front-line dying for David’s lust,

inside the Finzi Eclogue,

line by line in Urrea’s Border Patrol logs,

in the silent scream of John’s verses

about the echoing crack of the sledgehammer

breaking the legs

of the thieves

on the other crosses.

 

I found them

thirsty in the Great American Desert,

in the waste land,

in the warpland,

in the warp of wood,

in the waste of time,

outside in the distance,

on a Memphis balcony,

at Appomattox,

on the day of infamy,

on the eighth day of creation,

in the empty spot on a Gardner Museum wall,

at a Texas Book Depository window,

in an off-track betting parlor,

in Clark Kent’s phone booth,

in the lies George Washington told himself,

in the slave cabins,

at the gelid bottom of a Great Lake,

in Swanee River,

in Old Man River,

on the banks of the Sangamon River,

undergoing gentrification,

in nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror,

under construction.

 

I found them

on a South Water Market loading dock,

in the urinal troughs at Comiskey Park,

on Grand Boulevard,

at the Haymarket,

during the Battle of Fort Dearborn,

in the belly of the beast,

mired in Mud Lake,

riding a Reuben Street trolley,

gazing out from the Prudential Skydeck,

in Hell’s Kitchen,

on an upper floor of Cabrini-Green,

at 135 N. Leamington Ave.,

at 7943 S. California Ave.,

in the sacristy at St. Thomas Aquinas Church,

on the Crawford Avenue bus,

in the Marshall Field bargain basement,

in what remains of the Great Fire.

 

I found the lost tribes

in America,

lighting zipless firecrackers in my alley

on Independence Day.

 

I found them

a day late and a dollar short

tied to a runaway horse.

 

I found the lost tribes

after a long journey,

left at the Shell station,

inside the scream,

beyond the blue horizon,

in the beginning.

 

I found them

among the demons in my mind’s corners.

 

I found them

in two plots in section 17 of Rose Hill Cemetery

by the Prockovic headstone.

 

I found them

at the Colony Theatre,

at the Admiral Theatre,

at the Admiral at the Lake,

among the smoke-killed at Wincrest Nursing Home,

in the lockup at 26th and California,

in the lockup at 11th and State,

under the scum of Bubbly Creek,

on the fifth floor at City Hall,

in the Grand Army of the Republic rotunda,

watching a 5-11 blaze on 43rd,

waiting for the Red Line el at Jarvis,

despairing on a back stair

at 3 a.m. in Oak Lawn,

soundlessly screaming in rain-snow,

giving up/taking away the ghost in the bullet moment

in early Saturday darkness.

 

I found the lost tribes

in America

under arrest.

 

I found them

processing on their knees on mercantile sidewalks

on Good Friday.

 

I found them

living in the parents’ basement.

 

I found them

late for therapy.

 

I found the lost tribes

on the road to ruin,

on the road to Emmaus,

the road to Morocco,

to Mandalay,

to El Dorado,

beside the Street of Dreams,

down the street of sinners,

inside the mean streets,

on Broadway,

on 52nd,

in an alley off Main Street,

after the Wall Street car bomb,

at State and Madison,

on both sides of the tracks,

inside adrenaline Pacific Coast Highway,

in Mississippi at the devil’s crossroads,

out on Highway 61.

 

I found them

underground.

 

I found them

in prison.

 

I found them

in a stable, swaddled.

 

I found them

under cover of darkness.

 

I found them

innocent.

 

I found them

with malice toward none.

 

I found them

on vacation.

 

I found them

running through the halls of heaven.

 

I found them

chanting the Exsultet.

 

I found them

vacillating.

 

I found them

vomiting behind the Impala.

 

I found the lost tribes

in the land of milk and honey,

in the barber shop mirror,

in the electric hours before dawn,

in all that is seen and unseen,

in the Greyhound bus terminal,

in the name of the father,

in the nick of time,

in the land that time forgot,

In lieu of flowers.

 

I found the lost tribes

in America,

and they told me to leave them alone.

 

Patrick T. Reardon

7.23.18

 

“The lost tribes,” the first section of a projected six-section poem, was originally published by Under a Warm Green Linden on 6.21.18.

 

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