“Black Tambourines,” “Brother Red Gold,” and “Flesh”

Black tambourines

And I heard black tambourines, stolen

steel guitars, small-room tubas, forsaken

trumpets, green castanets, kettledrums

of gold, stained-glass window pianos

— the orchestra of the alley,

pavement joyously undefended.

That was in the city.  In the suburbs, I

gave names to the streets of the casino

housing development.  One is Mystic Delight,

another, Diversity of Gifts.  These here are

Ministries Lane and Wisdom Court.

The insurance adjustor’s elfin family lives

at 135 Brother Moon Avenue, stone gnome

out front, six feet tall.

I planted the lawns with knowledge and

healings and miracles and prophecy and

discerning of spirits and talking in tongues

and interpreting tongues.  On Sister Sun

Way, a hobo camp has been established in

the great room at 431, unheard by neighbors

under their caressment of air conditioning.

From his second-floor back porch, the

precinct captain calls the cops against the

lost tribe jazz he finds hard-listening.  He

goes back inside to watch preseason football.

Brother Red Gold

Brother Red Gold is down the line of

succession and covers the flaccid County

Building beat for the Deuteronomy Sun,

getting by, avoiding line of sight,

without complaint.

The scars on his arms are a chronology,

chapter and verse, translated shouts, and,

at night, close-eyed, he witnesses with a

thousand-mile stare the monkey people

clambering up the walls and open-air

floors of the unfinishable Thessalonians

bank tower, gibbering monkey talk amid

the hard ivy and white campions and the

lipstick vines, the confederate vines and

the string of hearts, and the balloon vines,

kangaroo vines and cathedral bells.

Mornings, he forgets all, newborn.

Unknown to him, the monkey people take

up daylight residence along the fragile

inside of his skull, right under the tattoo

signboard of his crib lessons in guilt.

From this vantage, they unsettle his days in

unseen ways along the skin of his face and

the sinews of his arms.

He longs to wash in whiter than snow.

He seeks atonement in writing 50 lines of

“I am heartily.”  He seeks absolution in

flat bleak facelessness.  He seeks a lancing

expiation as if at the block or in battle, the

head lifted in triumph, finished.

On this Shrove Tuesday night, Brother Red

Gold looks out the wall window of his

high-rise cell at the green highway sign to

Jericho, and the one to Canaan, and the

one to Caesarea Philippi.  He vows to make

a pilgrimage down some map line.  He vows

to join a cloister to chant Latin down the

rest of his days.

Instead, he heads to the dryer-warm basement

to change his laundry and  search absolution.

Hold that tiger.


Like that statue, inert as a mountain, unknowable.

Where were you when I manufactured the earth?

The thirty coins jingle-jangled

as Judas tied the rope.

Birds chitter-chattered

as David stood on the back porch slab

with his gun in the dark ice-rain.

Can you build the lily?

Boy tied on makeshift altar, knife raised,

a raptor floating above,


From the same womb, and now he is ash.

I remain flesh.

Do you know the path of lightning?

Snow gathers

on the shoulders of the bronze Lincoln,

white on green,

as Clark Street traffic

skitters by like so many wildebeests

fearing the big cat.

Ignore the shadows.

About the Author

Patrick T. Reardon

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Patrick T. Reardon is the author of fourteen books, including the poetry collections Requiem for David (Silver Birch), Darkness on the Face of the Deep (Kelsay), The Lost Tribes (Grey Book), Let the Baby Sleep (In Case of Emergency) and Salt of the Earth: Doubts and Faith (Kelsay). His memoir in prose poems Puddin’: The Autobiography of a Baby was published by Third World Press with an introduction by Haki Madhubuti. For 32 years, Reardon was a Chicago Tribune reporter. His history book, The Loop: The “L” Tracks That Shaped and Saved Chicago was published by Southern Illinois University Press.