Angels are out tonight

“Angels are out tonight,” “Brick wall scripture” and “City hymn”

by Patrick T. Reardon

Angels are out tonight

Angels are out tonight

Tonight, the typewriter keys slam rhythm

to ease coarse electricity under the skin.

The Sister of the Sacred Heart pleads alms

and sweats under her habit

as angels stride thickly east and west on her sidewalk.

Angels fly complex patterns

over the drunk anesthesiologist and the beautiful child.

Angels are out tonight.

The boy rocks his body right and left

to sleep

as angels whisper green forests in his ear

without mentioning the future gun,

a charity.

Angels are out tonight

as the fox scouts among the headstones,

as the sigh ends in stillness,

as Brother Pain is traded for Sister Death.

Tonight, angels are on the wind,

like a tune up the sidewalk,

like the white paint piers of the elevated,

like the ocean of police marching State Street,

Newman’s jolly coppers, the white-glove parade.

Down the court run fast-break angels,

in the chemistry moment,

actions and reactions,

without finish or start.

Angels are out tonight,

lining the beige nursing home walls,

and planless fireflies starscape the orphan shelter lawn.

Angels with assumed names

mingle the Cubs crowd tonight after a loss

and smoke Winstons outside the gay bar

and close up shop, lowering

the commercial-grade,

roll-down,

stainless-steel security door

with a thud.

Tonight, as the handgun rusts,

angels are out,

as ballerinas pirouette the Bible verse

along the red-brick wall,

as the sacristan eats his Filet-O-Fish,

as the lawyer in her sweats

stands on the suburban balcony

overlooking an industrial park

and tries to remember

the name of the kindergarten boy who vomited.

Angels are out tonight.

Angels embrace sorrow tonight,

finding storm within the storm.

They crowd tables in the Taylor Street trattoria,

drinking water and wine and breaking bread

before the elbow macaroni arrives, parsleyed,

the last supper of the night.

Angels run a marathon tonight along Lake Shore Drive.

Wearing orange vests, they dig a ditch with loud machines.

They sing gospel songs

and blues hymns

and country & western anthems

and Ubi Caritas.

In the sanctuary, a lieutenant kneels.

Angels echo in the high church space

along the stained-glass annunciation.

My soul magnifies, she said.

Angels are out tonight.

As I walk along Clark Street

through the cold night to apologize,

angels hide in the space behind the street lights,

and my sister balances

the weight of all that has come and all that will happen,

and my mother’s ashes are harmless,

and the aunt who saved my life

is willowy and curly blond still

in the backyard with the baby I was.

Latter-day angels tonight are out,

and bicoastal angels,

and special needs angels,

and glass-half-full angels,

Latin-rite angels,

strip club angels,

handyman angels,

service dog angels,

the heavenly host in mufti.

Tonight, the woman

wearing eight layers of pants and six shirts,

asleep in the tent on the Broadway sidewalk

amid metal restaurant tables and chairs

is with angels

swinging like the little girl she once was,

rising up,

swooping back,

legs building height,

and, at the top of her high, high arc,

she lets go

and flies up and out,

into the light,

the biblical furnace

where all pain is burned off like dross,

revealing pure.

At the alderman’s office, the precinct captain

takes the call and dispatches a crew of angels

to fill the potholes on a short street outside the ward,

through inattention or devotion or commotion or obligation

or corruption or inspiration or sedation or kindness.

Angels are out tonight.

The Pope works as a bouncer.

The Boston Celtic drives a hack.

A poem is written on the alley wall of a downtown hotel

in pencil on sooty bricks, never to be read.

And angels stir the coffee

in every cup on every table

in the hotel’s rooftop restaurant

and two miles away at the homeless refuge

and in the Mayor’s kitchen

and after the banker has said the rosary

and untouched between lovers

bending toward each other

and whispering, unknowing, the secret of breathing.

Angels are out tonight.

Michael and Gabriel, Uriel and Raphael,

Jegudiel, Selaphiel, Barachiel,

the thrones and dominations,

the cherubim and seraphim,

tonight amble the glittered Andersonville pavement

and climb the shadowed Englewood apartment stairs

and sit at the edge of dark in the Glenview yard

where a man who knows he is dying

barbecues for the ones inside,

each tock and tick mundane and solemn.

Tonight, angels sleep on the Red Line

from Howard to 95th and back and back and back.

Tonight, Tri-State Tollway motorists

barrel through the I-Pass lanes,

avoiding the tollbooth angels chanting the Daily Office.

Tonight, angels fall asleep in the ice-white television light.

Angels fight on the carpet

until Mom takes the plastic baby away from them.

Angels in the hotel room

can’t take their clothes off fast enough.

Angels are out tonight,

running around the university track,

each step an eternity, each exhalation another Big Bang.

In the Sovereign Tap, angels caress their Miller Lites

and watch Fred Astaire in The Royal Wedding

in between used car commercials.

Angels tonight await the Second Coming,

know they need,

know they want,

know they have no idea,

feel the high wearing off,

leave a backpack on the platform,

take an extra base,

twitch,

stalk,

run at the nose,

run on empty,

run to danger.

In the silence above the alleys,

angels are out tonight

as urgent rats,

worshipped in India,

revered in Rome and China and Old Japan,

jitter from hole to hole, the volted circuit.

Tonight, early drafts are put through the shredder

for no reason but delight at spaghetti-ed paper,

a dry meal of textured wonder and portent,

a gluten-free repast and echo of the halls of heaven.

Brick wall scripture

Read the brick wall scripture.

Fingertip the prophecy braille.

Shakespeare wrote a Bible of plays.

Macbeth’s sin (3 Samuel).

Lear’s rage against the pain (Job).

Iago, more evil than Judas.

Will wrote no Christ.

At the ward yard,

city-blue trucks write psalmist lines in rock salt,

sing solemnities of garbage, asphalt, rat poison,

tree removal, votes street-line paint

and precinct-captain doorbell-ringing.

Every winged thing, every scarred thing.

The Dollar Menu prayer at McDonald’s.

I liturgy my morning.

I plainsong thin, sharp arthritis lines

I confess my Babylon river.

Every cackling thing, every thing that chirps,

every sick thing.

The 5th Station of the Mall:

LensCrafters, Marshall’s, Lids,

a kind of Aramaic.

The Cyrene has a return to make.

Her votives were always sputtering.

She holied dark,

fearing sin upon her sundress.

Litany the street grid:

Granville, Thome, Rosemont, Devon,

four horsemen,

pray for us.

Study expressway chapter and verse,

splotch oil stains, thrum of tires —

Amen. Amen. Amen. Amen.

Parable new-mown embankment

where, before the dug road, my father first breathed.

The branches, chain-sawed,

fed into chipper,

spewed into truck bed.

Sectioned trunk, chippered.

Root system, ripped out and chippered.

Parkway hole, filled

with mild dirt and

the last of the jagged chips.

The gardener rectangles the site with bricks,

plastic chairs, flower pots

and, on stained-glass mornings, herself.

Let fall angel leaf.

Let snow cover congregation.

Let waters of baptism pound down,

curb rush,

sewer mouth swirl

to sacramental filtration.

Every stolid thing, every tall thing,

every thing close to the earth, every fragile thing.

A tender shoot from concrete, tall weed,

tight with yellow blossoms tense to transfiguration.

He prayed to Our Lady of the Crosswalk

that he would not stray.

He learned that lesson.

He learned the run of soccer.

He sought to fill gaps in the formula

but never whitened himself enough sin wash.

Every thing nocturnal. Every hunting thing.

Every nest-building thing. Every thing giving up the ghost.

Mayor the registered communicants.

Mayor sacristan commissioners.

Mayor theologians.

Mayor ex cathedra.

Mayor the College of the City Council.

Western Avenue, patron of neighborhoods,

pray for us.

Leamington Avenue,

pray for us.

West End Avenue, summer sun street,

and grimy Cicero Avenue,

Broadway, Paulina Street, Southwest Highway,

pray for us.

79th, 111th, 35th and all consecrated number streets,

pray for us.

Count steps to no purpose.

Plot black gun lines,

a chart from the Garden to the Second Coming

of the pigeon

to apple ooze pie tin,

iridescent neck sheen peck.

Every horned thing. Every thing with fangs.

Every sly thing.

Every thing in fear. Every striding thing.

Everything that soars and plummets.

I pew.

I paten.

I incense coal.

I sacrament the el.

Every rotting thing. Every rutting thing.

Every thing carrying its young in a pouch.

Every roaring thing.

One more station

on his numbered steps

to the hill

with no Veronica here on Devon.

She’s taking her own walk.

Street the cherubim.

Street the urchin.

Street the demon-filled hogs racing off Navy Pier.

Street the corner leper selling Streetwise,

the jewelry hawker, the Uber driver, the addled tourist,

the opera bus station, the velvet rat

down Old Testament alley,

along Edenic walls.

She takes my words weapons.

She steels her steel.

She declares me sick son.

She cries anger tears to my father

who takes his police gun and shoots me.

Breaking news.

Every unknown thing. Every stunned thing.

Every thing that lives on the fluids of another.

Every poisonous thing. Every thing with a shell.

Prostrate yourself face-down

on the sanctified skin of cement sidewalk,

arms above your head in obeisance.

Every thing ordained. Every grit thing.

Every thing that holds its breath waiting.

Every thing that feels blessed pain.

Every marred thing.

Every thing born immaculate.

City hymn

Hymn the sewer line.

Hymn the rhythm.

Hymn mown grass,

dawn-sun broken glass,

ash tray brass,

my scar, the rusted-nail fall.

Hymn the sink hole.

Hymn girder.

Hymn cinder alley,

maggot alley,

the basketball-rimmed garage.

Hymn chaotic bloomed colors along the garbage fence.

The boy I am

studies in the concrete of my alley,

large smooth stones,

and seeks in their curves

answers to questions I don’t know to ask,

my inhale-exhale.

Breath, breath, all is breath.

Hymn transaction, traction.

Hymn long division.

Hymn contrition.

Hymn lost and found,

the boy-brother seven-mile endurance

down the Lake Street el-track canal.

Hymn the crayons I melted

on the 5th grade radiator and

drew side views of Lincoln

as a conjurement.

Hymn the parquet floor, the open door,

the growl, the yowl, the pirouette, the give-and-go,

the vestibule mosaic, the bathroom tiles,

creosote planks, the silhouette Stations of the Cross,

butcher-shop six-point star.

Hymn sorting, shedding, shredding,

staying the course,

rubber-ball hockey in the snow alley,

computing my Lexon League batting average, .119.

Behind the Signboards facing Washington Boulevard,

tall weeds, mush cardboard, jagged glass bottles,

dogshit, a single discarded Playboy, charred ——

impromptu boy battle, small rocks

into the weeds, out to the sidewalk,

one off my boy’s forehead, a glance, a graze,

no matter, but,

turning toward older girls walking past,

a scream,

my sweat transubstantiated

to blood mapping my face,

Rivers of the World.

Hymn Leamington Avenue.

Hymn Granville Avenue.

Hymn Lindell Boulevard.

Hymn Mullholland Drive.

Hymn your own streets.

Hymn your own cities.

Hymn Saint Louis.

Hymn Chicago.

Hymn Calabasas.

Hymn Momence.

The boy

turns away

from lines of children shoes and underwear

on the family board,

a numbers graph, an organizational chart,

looks out

to the curve of the earth,

to the broken glass morning glint,

to dogshit alleys,

to street grid lines leading away,

leading to puzzle and more puzzle.

I breathe puzzlement.

I am at the map

and can follow West End east to the Loop

or Maypole west to California, to China,

to Russia, to Europe, to New York.

I am on the map and fly

to the edge of all that is

and back to the Bang.

Hymn curb trash:

twigs, a leaf,

a mud-thick mitten from winter,

a rosary crucifix unlinked.

Hymn links and unlinking.

Hymn clouds of incense.

I will go to the altar.

Hymn clouds of leaf-burn smoke.

Hymn seedlings.

Hymn street cleaning.

Hymn no parking,

for sale,

loading zone,

no dumping.

Hymn don’t walk.

Hymn electricity.

Hymn tree cover, plumbing, two-flats,

six-flats, courtyard buildings,

the bungalow belt, the forest preserve clearing,

lagoon scum, the dainty fox through the tombstones.

Hymn the asphalt street.

Hymn the gum, black on sidewalk concrete.

Hymn the elevated,

the elevator,

the elementary school,

the exit ramp.

Hymn photosynthesis.

Hymn sun soaking the red-brick wall,

my untranslatable scripture,

the word at the start and the end.

About the Author

Patrick T. Reardon

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Patrick T. Reardon is the author of eight books, including the poetry collection Requiem for David and Faith Stripped to Its Essence, a literary-religious analysis of Shusaku Endo's novel Silence. His poetry has appeared in Silver Birch Press, Ariel Chart, Cold Noon, Eclectica, Esthetic Apostle, Ground Fresh Thursday, Literary Orphans, Rhino, Spank the Carp, Main Street Rag, Down in the Dirt, Picaroon, Time for Singing, Tipton Poetry Journal, UCity Review, Under a Warm Green Linden and The Write City, and he has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize twice. Reardon, who worked as a Chicago Tribune reporter for 32 years, has published essays and book reviews widely in such publications as the Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Crain’s Chicago Business, National Catholic Reporter and U.S. Catholic. His novella Babe was short-listed by Stewart O’Nan for the annual Faulkner-Wisdom Contest. His Pump Don't Work blog can be found at patricktreardon.com.