« Josh Wood | Contents | Matt Tompkins »

Esteban Ismael

Walking Home in Ann Arbor, Fall



I am in a city alone

that is not really a city,

a sky pierced by white branches

& a thin skin of frost.


I go everywhere on foot

here under brandished knives

trees aim at my head

as I cross blocks, no one looking

me in the eye in this kind place

where everything else brown

& with any sense has left town or learned

to sleep away entire months


in the cold, away from the white shine

of noon, stand out in open spaces.

The only place I don’t feel obvious

is the bus station. My way home


is late. The dying tulips shudder

with me, the wind.

The sun replaced by a red edge

at the opposite end of the sky,

the magical ice vanished

until tomorrow morning, coming back


from a job a township over

that keeps me alive with spare money

& three hours of being

outside of faceless suburbs, walking past houses


that remind me of home—my best friend’s porch

except in snow, a corner store

where a woman that looks like my mother

squeezes an orange; a guy I would swear

went to my high school sells me a CD. Walking

in the starting dark I blend in for once

no one in sight on this last stretch

four buildings away from my apartment


until someone calls me child

the word sounding like the sigh that comes

before a hug, shakes the thousand miles

between here & anything close

to home. Someone on the ground, a woman

maybe the age of the grandmother

I remember as a child, sits on her ass

on an icy driveway, unable to stand. I pass these

senior apartments everyday. I lift her easily

as she lifts secrets from bones. At my arm


she says she’s been out for more than a half

hour yelling at people passing, & another

half hour alone asking sweet

to the last dandelions, sparrows

& pedestrians ducking behind the naked bushes.

This city’s hate smells like malt

liquor to her too. She stares into the eyeless


town when she walks. Neighbors

push their shoulders as handshakes

but scare so easily in the dark;

never seem to recognize the hallways

we’ve shared for a full year. I help her up

to her room, the whole way stinks of malt liquor.

She asks me not to judge her falling for

the sake of a damn cigarette. Or two. We do

what everyone else does, ignore the foot traffic

dragging slush on the curb in piles of brown

shit & call it something bearable like city-snow,


overlook the obvious beer cans in the gutter

& whatever else I can to stay

comfortable, sane. This kind of blind is

what can sustain us entire winters, over the slick

bullshit we slip on walking past ice glazed sidewalks,

manure heaps of city-snow in this non-city.


She only has two months left in this

apartment, another dispute with the landlord

& a pension sunk to the bottom

of the Detroit river, trapped under ice. I decline

whatever she offers in return for my help,

spend an hour on her couch

listening to her predict the heavy snow, forty years

of Detroit as it was. The heater sputters

in the corner & we hold our smiles, point

out the window to the dry street, rainless clouds

around a full moon.

« Josh Wood | Contents | Matt Tompkins »