SWEET AND GOLDEN SOUP
Fifty-six people have jumped from the same lamppost
on the Golden Gate Bridge. It must be secretly marked
safehouse or tell hard luck story here as if the bay
could be cajoled to offer up some scrap it’s been
withholding all this time. I crossed that expanse
in a ferry when I was eight on family vacation.
I didn’t think then about how many bodies
were beneath us. Earlier I’d shoplifted
for the first time. I thought I’d swiped
a sugar packet, but found out on the ferry’s deck
it was silica beads. Do Not Eat. I had no idea
what silica was except a disappointment and
a sorry start to a life of crime, and we were headed back
from Alcatraz. Later a street mime thought
my sister was pretty, escaped his glass box to give her
one imagined flower after another. My mother
pointed out hidden flaws in beautiful women
to give me hope for the future. Freckles, overbite.
O how I dreamed the Most Crooked Street
would be my home. But there was nothing secret
about that post-card obvious gash. Cars lined up
to traffic its perfect turns. Even when no one was looking
my sister clutched her make-believe bouquet.
My hand closed around my pocket’s worthless contraband.
In Chinatown, plucked chickens illuminated windows.
Dim sum and wonton were unopened gifts.
If I could read the restaurant names, one would say
Here is the place, here is a sweet and golden soup
that will ensure you are never hungry again,
but my parents thought they said dangerous neighborhood
so we went back to the hotel and had hamburgers.
On the way, my mother pointed out homeless people
by pretending they didn’t exist. Then I shared a bed with my sister
and remembered the cityscape from the ferry’s deck,
how from the distance I thought I might hold the city
in the flat of my hand or crush it between my fingers
to extract some kind of juice, sweet or bitter.
—from Rattle #33, Summer 2010
Bethany Schultz Hurst: “When I took piano lessons as a kid, I loved playing anything that involved grace notes. They were everything that declarative chords couldn’t be. Scored in tiny print and crossed out, they seemed like secrets, as if they existed in a different place than the rest of the song. I’m not very good at piano, though, so years later, I’m still exploring my fascination with peripheral text by writing poems.”