For two nights we wandered the tent-squat encampments and mattresses under the bridge. Searching the patches of swordgrass and driftwood. Weaving some cedar-bough strands into sticks. Dream catchers made out of tin strips and dental floss. Trusses above us marooned in the moonlight. Standing like hashmarks or threads of an iron web. Angular, blue-looking, pocked white with grommets, missing the subtle expanse of the wind. The swallows descended. The bats circled high on the crossbars and pillars of rebar and rust. What bleated scenes burned in the Gold Medal Mill sign? What faint neon lighting reminded the skies of our progress alone on the earth? Holding a chink of that life in a sandgrain. Hearing our names in a trickle of piss. Huddled up next to the bridge-wall, the railing, the heat-lightning flashes and black bags of clouds. The Cloudmaker screaming, This dream is a dungeon. Those big rigger engines have taken my job! The fog lifting off in a gray slough of silence. The tugboat emerging from shadows that pass like a dark floating road in the midst.
The Cloudmaker’s Bag
He shows me the kerosene camp stove he cooks with.
Ten-dollar poker chips. Crystals he carries in small
leather pouches, tied to his shoelace, his belt loops
to harness the sun. He carries a matchbook, a cell phone
and charger, a lighter, an old deck of playing cards
with nudes on the backs of them. Needles and balled
thread. Thin strips of tin-foil wrapped up in two yellow
Ziplock bags. He carries his own wife’s bones on a necklace.
Fingers them round in the glow of the shelter-lights.
Nuggets he dug from the cremator’s shoebox of ash.
He is seven years homeless now. Living on food-stamps,
gravedigger jobs he has only been fired from, free meals
down at the church. He carries a homemade knife
in his pocket. Dull gray. Whetstone for keeping
the blade-tip able to break through aluminum cans.
Watermark stains on the handle from leaving it drawn
in the seaside rain. He carries a bible. King James
version. He carries a loose gold tooth on a string.
He carries a phony ID in his wallet. Writes down
the names of the good eucalyptus trees. Calls them
his Darlings, his Leafy-green Loves. He carries
an old pair of foggy binoculars, out-of-date passport,
a penlight for writing his words on the night sky.
Something he picked up in Bozeman, Montana. The stars
are so clear there, they beg for connections. For someone
to map out their infinite faces. To draw the invisible lines.
Kai Carlson-Wee is the author of RAIL, forthcoming from BOA Editions. His poems have appeared in Narrative, Best New Poets, TriQuarterly, Crazyhorse, and The Missouri Review. His photography has been featured in Narrative Magazine and his poetry film, “Riding the Highline,” won the jury award for Innovation in Documentary Short Film at the 2015 Napa Valley Film Festival. He lives in San Francisco and is a Jones Lecturer at Stanford University.