The tenant downstairs
says Carlos is in the Spanish Mafia.
They deal drugs and scrawl graffiti
under the bridge outside of town.
Even when she’s home
the woman across the hall
double locks her door,
ignores what she hears, what she sees.
Carlos complains about the lack of heat,
leaves his windows open all winter
so the smoke, the smell of grass, will dissipate.
On the night before he skips
he pushes his girlfriend down the stairs
a baluster breaks; the girl cries.
He tells her he has other girlfriends, many;
she must understand, as we all must,
finally, in the end. I listen to stories
other tenants tell me,
imagine their lives, his life, what
it means to live like that. If I understood
any of this I would be someone else,
someone in a different life; what would I learn,
what would I know? I could repent
a life like that, and my repentance
would lift the sorrow of the world.
I clean the walls of his apartment, fill
chinks in the plaster, like bullet holes,
find the face of Jesus in a stain
bleeding down the walls. Jesus is in tears;
we’re both in tears. We all want
the same thing: to look into the face of God
without shame, to earn eternal salvation, to get the rent
every month, always paid on time.
Dale Ritterbusch’s most recent contribution to the military-industrial-educational complex involves a tour of duty as Distinguished Visiting Professor at the United States Air Force Academy. Currently he is performing a similar mission as Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. He is the author of Far From the Temple of Heaven and Lessons Learned: Poetry of the Vietnam War and Its Aftermath