The Watcher

    A lamp burns through the tree’s coverage, lamp as
    the tree’s electric-white apple. It glows like a bees’ nest
    or an idea in the mind of the tree’s coverage. “Look at it

    long enough,” says the watcher, “and the light bleeds
    in four directions, like a compass, like the cross.”
    An electric-white fruit mostly at night, even during

    a night-like day, when fog sculpts the park. “There it goes,”
    says the watcher, “it always cuts off.” He has bundled
    glossy black trash bags around his bench, atop the bench.

    He rests his elbows, his heels on full black trash bags,
    himself pointed toward the statue of a triumphant general
    astride his mount, cap waving, in the park’s middle.

    “There it is,” says the watcher, “it always cuts back on.”
    A dip in the day’s brightness always leads to a rekindling
    of the tree’s electric-white fruit, a fortune teller’s ball,

    a glowing globe bluish at its fringe. A fling of blackbirds
    circles the lantern burning like an idea in the mind
    of the tree’s coverage, then circles away like fever-break

    or an easy headache unscrambling. “Always cuts back on,”
    says the watcher, arms folded, a fort of glossy black bags
    about him. He wears a top hat, a real Charlie Chaplin.

    He could manage a pawnshop, a pool hall, a gun store.
    He could be good-hearted. The lamp hovers like an apparition
    amongst the branches, a star, a moon on a bristly

    green night. It burns behind the tree, the lamp, and through
    the coverage a moment longer, until its electric-white
    fizzle cuts off. “This time for good,” says the watcher,

    who raises his hand in salute. The general’s hand also aloft,
    a perpetual bronze gesture toward a wonder for which
    there is no statue, only wonder, a fling of astonishment.


    J.’s been shifting his weight outside the open-late
    coffee shop when it registers: those two fishguts
    with the comb-across in the shiny four-door.
    The “poe-lease” are cops to J., who’s as far north
    as Motorcade City the night it drops fifty degrees
    in April and snows into the puddles. “Reefer,”
    says J. to a couple Asian girls in leather skirts,
    who giggle over-shoulder as the wind pushes them.
    “Could score that faggot for being an asshole,”
    one cop says of J. The partner gives three huffs.
    “He’s either going for another cup,” goes the first.
    “Nope,” goes the second, and twists the ignition.
    The four door’s headlamps make the snow seem
    like moths juggling on a muggy summer night,
    J. thinks. “Reefer,” he says to a man who pushes
    out the open-late coffee shop, a strip of bells
    jangling on the handle. J. takes a few steps down
    the sidewalk but stalls when the four-door floats
    toward on a buoyant hunt. “Faggot,” the cop
    thinks on the driveby. Out of the four-door’s
    taillights stride what, a couple marines, gayboys.
    “Reefer,” says J., and they accept, it’s cold,
    there’s a party, where you from?, you sound
    like the south, their arms around J.’s shoulders
    real brotherly at first. A couple blocks later,
    you better have that reefer, boy, cobblestone,
    heelclick, the two sharp points of the moon’s
    tilted grin, flight and blood flapping backward
    like starlings, drops that salt the laughter, drops
    that salt the laughter and blacken the breath.


    The Last Out

    Two things were certain: to saw, sand,
    sweep for dad, and to wait—faces dripping
    in the cool, dim shop—for his nod.
    We hollered, did stairs, fought through
    the door, one more eager than the other
    to make the small, overgrown yard.
    There, we threw the ball back and forth.
    We loved its painful pop in our gloves,
    the dives, double plays, the last out.

    Each afternoon, dad nodded a bit earlier.
    “My two Big Leaguers,” he called us,
    watched us throw from the kitchen window.
    The green lawn, the green sycamore,
    the green country air—man, did we dread
    hard ground, snow, fireplace afternoons.
    It was winter when we first noticed
    dad’s limp—the limp that led to canes,
    crutches, the wheelchair, and surgery.

    Dad no longer works the shop—instead,
    he mows that old lawn to a stubble.
    I visit him two or three times a month.
    We walk hand-on-shoulder to the yard
    where we toss the ball back and forth.
    Dad wears your cap and glove, brother.
    Not for long and nothing hard—two of us
    throwing into the breeze as it carves
    through the darkness of each stadium.



    Bio Note
      Daniel Gutstein teaches creative writing and students who have disabilities, both at George Washington University. His work has appeared in several publications, including Ploughshares, TriQuarterly, Prairie Schooner, The American Scholar, StoryQuarterly, Fiction, and The Penguin Book of the Sonnet.