after Hugh Pearson
The Magic City is a sousaphone player drowning
out the patrons of a Mexican seafood restaurant
shouldered to its outskirts if I drove, Patsy
promised to take us. The back of her hospital gown
was shucked like elote after she fell to her knees
clenching her chest, stabbed with a letter opener
or indigestion. We’d found ourselves in the ER after
eating seconds in the wealthiest part of town, found
ourselves maneuvering through a tunnel of oaks,
sputum sluicing through valves. My job was to keep
the renowned wordsmith away from wine-sipping,
workshopping white folks who couldn’t have known
they were turned around & speaking out of turn.
To calm the slow burn of a book signing with no
books, only after the city’s finest mistook her for
a white woman who shared her name, only after
catching him rattle off the wrong bio from a Wiki page.
The Magic City is a sousaphone player in need
of a plunger mute. In addition to our own faces,
we watched the tables closest to Señor Sousa frown
with every chew of their chips & red & green salsas.
We watched servers juke out the path of the brass
that wrapped around his torso like an exoskeleton’s
large intestine. Gastroschisis is nothing to turn up
your nose at. Patsy is a poet, but the physicians
were too busy getting busy & kissing her breasts
with a cold stethoscope to know it. Much too busy
checking her temperature & not her temperament,
listening for key words to hear the keys her words
fell in. The rhythms that would’ve made us shake
our heads at the sousaphone player with the nerve
to blowfish into the microphone as if his blaring
wasn’t already wrong. Shouldered on the outskirts
where the population resembled what she was
used to in Chicago’s iller noise. Not just the funerals
where second lines are stilled outside photographs,
or the soirées in Grand Coteau where we danced
zydeco beneath a canopy of bald cypress, gravel,
& small-talked old white women in graphic tees
& backwards trucker hats, but the platters of broiled
shrimp-scallop-&-octopi-stuffed lobster for two.
We drank to hyperacidity. Toasted to garlic toast.
Like guests sitting next to a wedding reception’s
DJ booth, I couldn’t make out hardly anything Patsy
was saying without bending my ear to the claws
like a sous chef in a window. Not the man at the bar
flirting with the server or joking with his daughter.
Not my own mouth churning, or the mushrooming
skyline so far away I thought we’d never get back
to the inner city blues of the Inner Dispersal Loop
that throttles downtown like a king cobra choking
a mongoose, or a sousaphone burping so loud
I could barely hear the death-obsessed poet retort
“Tulsa is like a beautiful wedding gown on a corpse.