“Category 5 at the Outdoor Mall” by Pete Miller

Reading by the author

“Paint the rubble pretty…”—Patricia Smith

This crowd’s never been soaked,
never walked Saturday night faster than a stroll.
Window shopping, never seen a cop’s
reflection spreading out of theirs like mold.

Never come to
far from where they think they must have dropped—
or been dropped, legs bruised,
suspecting that the gator gave up.

She taps the beat mean, keeps kicking the three
blown-to-pulp harmonicas at her feet,
has to set them back straight in their row
like Red Cross cots across her rolled-out sleeping bag

so she doesn’t forget. But folks here never
surrender a shiver at Ocean Poured in Nightfalls,
or sweat the panic that they’ve caught
something dark that needs to be danced off,

or flood tears
when she plays Old Swamp, Old Heart.
They tie matching sweaters
around bottoms so stingy 

that Blame Your Own Funky Ass
doesn’t bounce back
unless she plays it like she’s wasted—
though she hasn’t touched a bottle

since the storm.
Funny how their eyes all hide
when she sexes up
Hustling Ain’t Desperate,

the soundtrack to her hat-on-the-sidewalk’s
dirty dime and two nickels’
failing to bump and grind themselves
into a quarter.

Done caring that God’s a Beignet sounds
like she’s singing Gaza Beret
to these members of the Church
of the Three Ton Cinnamon Bun,

she huffs Fungal Moods
with so much breath it might
dislodge from deep in her lungs
a skeleton key to show

how it feels to open
a door again, just slam it with a curse,
how she can’t quite ever learn
Only Rumors Know.

This crowd’s all wet.
Hoarse as the moon pulled low
through a hole in a roof,
she whispers, Yeah,

motherfuckers, yeah.
Keep denying Hell.

Pete Miller is the author of the chapbook Born Soap (H_NGM_N). A graduate of Arizona State University’s M.F.A. program, he lives in Omaha, Nebraska where he works in homeless services. He co-edits the online poetry journal A Dozen Nothing.

Image: “Gumby lays it down” by Bill Cawley

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