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Contributor: Mark J. Mitchell

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Every landscape is located nowhere.

—Fernando Pessoa
The Book of Disquiet


Roy’s left hand dangles over Ellis Street
His cigarette glows soft as a brake light
while late evening becomes early night.
The only music a lunatic shriek
from a tired bus. Neon crackles outside
and stiff voices argue next to the closed
post office station—its only windows
still cracked. He exhales smoke through the good side
of his face. Pearl’s the devil’s true daughter,
he thinks, or some fisherman’s ex-wife.
Coughing, he remembers her cold laughter—
it’s threaded through his dreams—a leitmotif
composed of broken glass and cracked shutters
and lost salt air blown off an unreal reef.


Pearl kicks her cigarette down Ellis Street
wondering how many fish build a house,
if he was really her perfect Jim, how reefs
choose just one man—that captain lied, of course—
Jim left—like smoke, like ash from that window
dropping from above the Serv-More. Sidewalks
aren’t safe these days and her cigarette floats
overhead. She scans up and down the block:
No one. Roy’s eyes don’t move. He knows she’s there—
Not some animal sense—she makes his bones
ring loud as a cracked church. Her soul can snare
him at a distance. Past the last pay phone
in the Tenderloin. His ears twitch. He swears
she’ll call. His cool window’s her only home.


Once a month the full moon licks Ellis Street.
Roy tilts his broken face, missing lost bones.
The hard light smells of all the blondes he’s known.
But Pearl was moon-cool and still threw a heat
that fused his memory with dreams. He stares
at his dark wall, decodes voices from the store,
cut by sharp notes from dropped bottles. His door
can’t close. He never hears steps on the stairs.

The curb’s cool, concrete’s blue and almost soft,
so Pearl sits, looks at her aging cigarette,
drops it in her pocket, dreaming sailors
in stranger’s smoke. She can light up later.
Her teeth ache for lost Jim. A last minute
pain moves her from low sob to a loud cough.


A lost fork eats noon sun on Ellis Street—
blinding—Pearl kicks it past the broken phone
that rings like a lost fork with damaged teeth.
She could answer, but never in daylight—
That reminds her of how she drew a gun
on his back—her fingernails red and hot
as that fork. She drew smoke and a white beach
and he moved like a knife in water-time.
No shades spare Roy’s window—just wanton knots
stretched across the glassless space that hides him—
his sniper’s nest where he guards Ellis Street.
He keeps it safe as milk so she can own
her reef, his wrecked face, the unbroken light
glaring from the fork so her eyes won’t dim.


Roy exhales a cowl of smoke. Ellis Street’s
the cloister he’s never walked. His lost prayers
are still as breath. His stiff face avoids air—
devout as a fish—religiously neat.
After dark he practices his long stare.
His mind’s empty and his cold walls are bare.
He listens to night for the sound her feet
make on pavement. His faith says she’s out there.
Handing out messages, Pearl sees the pulse
of neon. Reads the language, not the words—
afraid of the glass—certain it will hurt
when it rains down on the sidewalk, hard as grace.
She tucks a perfect smoke behind her ear
and minds the fogged window with its mute seer.


Pearl dreams: A parrot falls on Ellis Street—
Not wild—a refugee from mirrors, scared
outdoors by its face—dropped by concrete stars
beside her cold ear. She knows she’s asleep—
but feathers still tickle. Its cherry beak
is hard as Jim’s eyes. The parrot’s sly ghost
wakes her. This sidewalk’s her bed, not the reef
that stole him. She still hates it. Her dream floats
past Roy. His lighter blinks like the cracked port
light on a smuggler’s skiff. Forgotten coasts
prey on him. He prays too—for her. Precise
as a fisherman’s knife. It's craft—he’s not nice.
This empty world is full of sins and most
are his own. He’s guilty in his home court.


Roy stands back and examines Ellis Street
from an oblique angle, mapping a board—
no game—he forgot the rules years ago.
She’d stand right there and haunt the slanted row
leading nowhere. He wants her force restored
to a perfect square that blocks her retreat—
or might. It’s been too long since he was sure
of things—just this wall, his face, his scarred feet.
Pearl moves where she wants. She knows
each puddle of light. She can play with bones
and visions—juggle them with her unskilled hands—
they’re tied by his lost touch—the kiss that began
this trip to her sidewalk. She’ll map fissures,
broken glass, knowing where Jim will fall down.


Pearl stops. It has snapped dark on Ellis Street
but only here—where she stands. Music drops
from above the Serve-Well. Slow, damp notes, not
quite rain, but a melody built of mist
and failure. She knows Jim’s not his real
name, but he was so perfect—lithe and tall—
his arms shaped her form. He left and she fell
right here. She shudders at the smell of fish.
Roy owns only one record and he plays
it once a week. Satie’s piano notes
feel cool to his broken ear. He repeats
one side over two hours. It’s his Friday
magic—erasing her face as it floats
down to that strange dark reef on Ellis Street.


Roy hated sun. The fog loved Ellis Street.
Day drinkers were loud, formless spirits.
Ashes fall from his window. He retreats
to blue shadow—cracked glass—duct tape, warm spit
and will save it—Movies on his cool wall—
sub-titled with prime numbers—her face calls
his lost name. He glares down to the sidewalk
as if she’ll stroll by. Fog always fooled her.
Pearl’s lost in Chinatown—she followed chalk
Murals past tea shops to an alley where
a pile of antique cassettes promise lost
foreign films. She’s in love with hungry ghosts
and flying knives. But Ellis Street’s his home.
She smells his pacing, willing her to come.


Pearl cleans her striped heart. Lights on Ellis Street
kiss fog as gates are pulled closed and locks snap.
She mouths numbers, watches alarms get set.
Cars growl homeward. She smoothes her cardboard flat
below his window. She sees reflected light
leaking around tape. This quiets her cough
and her slack nerves. She slips off on low tides
to dream of fishermen who escape rough
seas. Roy takes a look out through blue shadows
and lets fog cool his burning face. He’d shut
the window if he could. He doesn’t like noise
after dark—it reminds him of squeaky hoists
on lost ships and that night he couldn’t cut
the tail line. He steps back. His face won’t show.


Roy squints. The mail has come to Ellis Street.
Pearl waits her turn. There’s no bottle, no note.
Roy paces, sets his record to repeat.
Sun washes Pearl white below his window.
Street boys come and go. They count on dull fights
to break their day. Pearl could toss them a cause
but she wants Roy to sleep. These foggy nights
are cruel to him and she won’t break the law.
The dead Frenchman’s notes bring up Roy’s cracked ships
and Pearl’s lost eyes. She quivers. She looks up.
Roy splashes coffee, cold as a dead fish,
then breaks his cup. Pearl is taut with lust.
Roy runs through his window to Ellis Street.
It rains glass, blood and tape. Pearl and Roy meet.

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Mark J. Mitchell’s novel, The Magic War appeared from Loose Leaves Publishing. He studied at Santa Cruz under Raymond Carver and George Hitchcock. His work appeared in several anthologies and hundreds of periodicals. He lives with his wife, Joan Juster making his living pointing out pretty things in San Francisco.


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