Alan Spears


We talk about our losses sighed and numb.
Voices cracking like the buildings that tumbled,
though weeks later
it's the people who are beginning to collapse.
In hollow routines,
we walk, laugh, eat, sleep, work our way
through the world...
but something in all of us fell with the towers.

The papers have been reluctant to report the new trend,
but people are noticing...
That, on occasion,
in mid-sentence, on the subway, while holding a lover,
we belch out clouds of thick, gray dust
vicariously inhaled,
quickly apologize for the transgression of normal manners,
then stumble on ash-faced,
looking for a way out of the darkness.



I call them "morons."
A group of guys
most likely young, stupid-ass brothers
that have been driving by
the neighborhood the last few nights
shooting up the abandoned gas station on the corner.
I've never seen them
but I know their work
by the fury of their assault
and the sound of screeching car tires
as they speed away.

What's worse than the bullets
is the dead silence afterwards.
No cops, no sirens wailing to the rescue.
No neighbors stepping out
to consult with one another in hushed, worried tones.

Sheila Rotner
Soul Cage I
screen woven into wire mesh
with sand and mylar,
12x17x5 inches, (2003)
more work by Sheila Rotner

When the "morons" struck this morning
they roused me from a sound sleep.
It took a few seconds to realize
they were at it again,
as the closer we get to summer the more
folks 'round here break out leftover firecrackers and M-80s...
But these were bullets
and before I could catch myself,
in a moment of soporific optimism
I reached over to adjust the wicker partition that serves as my curtain,
a pathetic "just in case" to protect against stray bullets.

The shots rang
the tires screeched
and then...
Nothing all over again.

I lay there in the humid silence...
Thinking about all the other people in the neighborhood
angry, afraid, and muted just like me.

After a few minutes I rolled out of bed
and went downstairs for a glass of water.
DC tap.
It tasted a lot less like lead than usual.
For which I was truly grateful.




don't sit next to people who pray
or those who might disguise affiliation
by not praying.
avoid traditionalists, radicals, fundamentalists, fascists, Luddites, technophiles, disgruntled
homophobes, or only slightly gruntled misogynists.
steer clear of "new" niggers, "old" niggers, "white" niggers, and "sand" niggers.
evade tourists of any kind--especially the ones from out of town.

Sit by yourself.
............Keep to yourself.
........................Count on no one but yourself.

and should that course fail...

............Bomb everyone preemptively.




We gorge ourselves on Chinese food and rich conversation
though it's not the vegetable combo I've traveled this far to devour.
I'm thinking about what it would be like
to feel your warmth from the inside
but I don't know how to ask you for it.

In this intimate little restaurant on Milwaukee Avenue,
at opposite ends of a too small table
the distance between us might as well be
the width of the Mississippi at flood stage,
with me stuck on the far side
dumbly noodling over a plate of eggplant,
and waiting for a sign from you or god.

Just outside, love bound couples sprint to bedrooms.
Some can't even wait that long.
I'm hoping the waiter might have a suggestion beyond dessert
but nothing manifests except the check and
the obligatory fortune cookies.

I crack mine.
It reads: "You will be successful in love."

I hand it to you for validation.

You smile, laugh warmly, touch my arm.

And I'll be damned if I know what that's supposed to mean.




they don't know, can't know
what a simple smile or turn of the head can do to a heart.
How moving among them is like
walking through a field of redolent, sun-lit flowers...

for if they did,
I think they'd manage to contain themselves--for the good of man-kind.

offer up a little less of that beauty,
that makes me feel so dumb,
so fevered,
so brutishly blessed.

Alan Spears is a life-long resident of the District of Columbia. His poems have appeared in Gargoyle, LitWit Magazine, The Frantic Egg, and the Potomac Review. He currently works as an Associate Director for Diversity for the National Parks Conservation Association.

Published in Volume 6, Number 3, Summer 2005.