On the Way to WorkRichard Soberpaintings

Strangers : Two Takes

You frequently come across strangers who remain strangers partly because they make promises they do not or cannot keep. Like juniper or pinon they keep their distance. Like monsoon season their plans are often predictions which fail to materialize. You will look in frustration if you look at all, for poetry here. You might find it elsewhere, perhaps while you stand idly on the side of a road where the world falls silent, where a curve in the highway or weather poking up over the horizon sing of another country. This is what happens after a while, the music in your heart and the name your wear merge into a landscape hospitable to dreams, but not possession. The wind carries the plaintive voices of trust fund desperados wandering the wrong movie set. No one really stays. There is no one big family here, not even a dysfunctional one. Quiet rebellion going nowhere in your living room or café will get you only so far. No matter how familiar you become with this place, it is a point of serious indifference to the chronic part-time resident down at the farmers’ market. Strangers will be washed down arroyos and show up at the gates of hell with their pants around their ankles. The badlands look good just over the edge of the fragile green valley where more people die of metaphorically injected homesickness than anywhere else. But, this is home. Humming with hope, with transient vandals, with dense love songs on the radio laced with arsenic and cyanide at seventy-five miles an hour.


Some of my best friends are strangers. They are principled, heroic, and doomed. Together, we gaze upon a Sumerian horizon. From where we sit an ocean of collective fear persuades us to offer up appeasing gifts of food, money, toil, and soul to the jealous gods and long-armed spirits. Otherwise the world will collapse, be withheld, or implode until further notice. It is as if most of us were created specifically to liberate others from the necessity of working for a living and ourselves condemned to always be looking for a job. The law requires you to bend over and submit your thanks under penalty of pain, banishment, and death. The gods of money are insatiable and merciless, but they are private persons with names and addresses. We gaze upon the horizon. The world is in no danger of being overwhelmed by a flood of love. It need not fear being consumed by a fire of generosity. The people I love linger on street corners. But, now it’s our turn to pay tribute to the homegrown barbarians disguised as genuine men who only look like us. In our sleep we dream of falling, of being stabbed by strangers. We disappear like a person in a one-night stand, around an early morning corner.

RS 2008