The Tunnel He Saw

Tiber 3

[anonymous sidewalk chalk artist in Rome, 1987; photo by mickey morgan]

He watches a silence.

Light sliding downhill.

Smoke pearls radiating through weave,

spilling thin and then thinner,

dropping off the horizon

then gone.

His foot pulls into view,

His leg.

Then the rest of him leans

out to the edge.

There is no world

and he hangs in it.








Girl with Green Shawl, by Moise Kisling, 1919


Tumbling toys from a purple sack.

She turned each one, she knew each one,

its joy.

Ideal became real. She searched for lunch,

lifting wad after wad of refuse

from cans,

clutching a bag of only the needed,

sweating her identity within her purse,

a monogrammed satchel

announcing she wasn’t . . .

he died.


Tumbling treasures from a limp shopping bag.

She turned each one gently, then lay on the bench

to sleep.


Fishing, Jean-Miche Basquiat, 1981

“Fishing” by Jean Basquiat, 1981


A forager scratching skin of the early morning

street, clawing paw after paw in the  near-dark.

A digger sifting through rubble

for tin, plastic, glass, blank-washed

bottles. In colorless dawn,

repeats and repeats

a sound like scratching dry skin.

A foraging black quotidian being of a Thursday,

a near-blind matinal litany, Thursday,

always on Thursday.

He is an old child who managed to get back here.

He scuffles in the gutter of the veined street,

scooping, acquisitive and so hungry, Mama, hungry.

He he has no body.

He can only drag and scratch in ruckus tracks

through dreams of sleepers

triggering weaving wandering stories

that ride the edge of Lethe and light

with listening bodies blank as his.


Toe Shoes

Toe shoes (from Kat Wildish's)

–Thanks, Kat Wildish for letting me steal your picture

I always hated wearing toe shoes.
I was terrified of my distance from the floor as I balanced on the half-dollar end of my foot.
I felt the weight of my body crushing my feet into aesthetically desirable

My toes bled out of obligation.
My feet, out of their prisons,
throbbed and swelled to perpetually feverish

For whom did I bind my feet?
For whom did I numb my contact with Earth?
Whose aesthetic sense was teased at my agony’s cost?
I don’t even know whom I pleased.
Possibly some respecting gentleman bow-tied with his wife
at his side
as I hide
my agony under talcum white, deep brown eyeliner,
fake eyelash talk.

Put me down.
I heard your moan.
Dump me as you like to do
like potatoes and a groan
I’m coming down.
Time to get outta town.


On a Curve in the Tiber

chalk on Roman sidewalk, 1987, anon


On a Curve in the Tiber

—photos and text by mickey morgan

The bus throttled to the middle of the bridge and stopped. Pressed to a wide lean with packed bodies swaying to the bus’s forward then backward lurch, I hung like a monkey from the ceiling strap. I tried to be nonchalant in the forced intimacy of strangers’ bodies, flush as lovers, against mine, a fully-clothed ménage a trois, unconsented to by at least one.

Tiber 17

Tiber 24

Tiber 23

Tiber 30

Tiber 22

Tiber 29

I looked straight out the dust-coated window. All color equalized to tannish brown: tops of cloud-blasting cars much larger than their chain-smoking inhabitants, pocked marble bridge rail, murked water of the Tiber.

Tiber 4

Obedient liquid stroked the controlling walls as it slid past. Supports of the next bridge further down severed the solid mass of watery body, a fallen column hewn to impotence in three willowy ribbons.

Tiber 28

Tiber 25

The column had no hope in its encounter with stone walls, spewing round the supports in curves as clean as streams of blood from the surgeon’s knife to the vein, the curves from either side meeting each other in back of officially staid marble, happily intertwining in a dirty froth,

Tiber 27

dashed to shoveling curves to pitiful circles powerless to complete themselves, shifting and merging tumbling over each other in dirty new abandon they had never known.

Tiber 26

Tiber 20

Renaissance steps. Strips of white marble bordering cubes of black volcanic stones easy to descend, a long ramp with subtle and regular drop.

A city worker, gray-haired man with blue workcoat. Sweeping up dumpings dropped from high walls holding the city out of the river. The air had a subtle stink, not quite saturated with fumes of rot he shoved along with a broom of bound-together switches.

Tiber 21

Strewn bones, chewed clean of their meat, legs, spines of a chicken carcass, red with the residue of blood-stained bone-white plastic bags billowing crinkly in the mild wind, pale blue sails sprinkled with coffee grounds caught against masts of dry leafless stalks scratching the wind in shivers back and forth. Determined plants shoved between the cubes of black volcanic rock, thriving in barren decoration of droppings from above. Orange peels, edged with fine brown, a veil shrouding them, orange life beginning to conform to earth brown.

(O Roma! Thy bounty and beauty!)

Tiber 19

Another plastic bag burst open on the stones split like a body’s skin, dashed open, styrofoam plate swelling through the wound, tomato drippings, husks of pumpkin seeds, discarded shells, the skin, left to the lonely task of rotting, (as we all must), bones that carried the meaty life, stark now in their fall.

And the river. Green mucous-slide moving at the pace of a fast walk, mindless flow of water, ordered to fallen column-shape between the walls of the banks, surface of desert green slides in silence, like masses of people, duly shuffling to the ovens.

Tiber 14

A metal car muffler floats by. It does not bob or drift but moves with purpose. Rides forward at confident speed, A marble slab of bridge support leads around to become a precipice, cliff’s edge over the turn in the river. Rocks suck the water out of monotone. Speed increases to that of a human, rebounding off into living plaits fuming with combustible foam.

Tiber 6

Plaited fall to classification, categories, ordered drugged heads spilling to watery logic. An open space white marble meeting the asphalt sidewalk, under the arch of the bridge. Underbrush covers a section, washed to one direction when the river was swollen. Bits of indestructible plastic wrap caught on its branchy twigs but all dried to stiffness and swept one dry direction. A hypodermic needle.

Tiber 15

And then another two of them flush, like lovers, seen. Blood in tiny stains on the needle of one. Blood pulled into the needle, backed up the syringe of the other, littered like smoked-up cigarette butts.

Tiber 9

A drizzled condom unfurled like the shed skin of a snake. On the asphalt under the bridge.

Tiber 5

(O love!)

And then the frescoes, tall as this body. A black scaled dragon, its head a human hand, each finger a circumcised penis head with a face, five bald men, big-eyed with droopy folds of skin.

Tiber 37

Sonia Leopizzi e Sandra Serafini

Semo Della Maiana Forever

Nadia ti Amo 24-2-87


Amo Chantal Settimio

Tiber 36

Signs on water stained walls.

I am leaving, retreating, running, fleeing back, above, where people walk over the bridge, cars toot, bleat, rush fiercely at street level. Buses roll up, several, to a middle strip of pressing people. I climb onto one marked “Coliseo.”

A girl, her legs crossed and propped in the back seat of the bus, sleeps with her head in her father’s lap. Her father holding a limp pink toy. She sits up, a dazed faraway, otherworldly look on her face. A dim soft world. Smooth and warm as the skin on her face. Her father smooths the hair from her forehead. Soft brown hair touching her cheeks in loose curves.

Tiber 3


To Jimbo and Jeanne . . . and Because of Jonathan


Gustav Klimt, 1909

Saturday, November 28, 1987

Orlando, Florida

The Jeanne Miller and James P. Morgan, II Wedding

The gardener digs in the earth,

piercing rich soil with shovel-edge,

turning and churning moist ground,

hoeing the ground, the gardener hoes the ground.


The women approach the gate.

She, Rosie, pulls back the wrought iron

and Barbara goes in, Rosie follows.

The gardener looks up.


Fresh turned earth seeps a smell

of readiness.

And Sonny waits.

These women bring the seed.


They walk with mother-touch,

Firm press of foot-soles mark their intent.

Sonny knows. This is what he wants.

The ground is ready.


Barbara bends to the soil, parts it,

deepens a trough in cool black crumble.

Rosie, the seed cushioned in the center of her palm,

leans to roll it out and down the sculpted tunnel.


They hesitate. Neither moves. The gardener

waits. As if the next movement could be

thwarted, put off, the tiny seed taken back

from prepared ground

at the bottom of a small hole,


in the garden of the gardener.


But this was only a moment’s hesitation.

Both women scooped cupped palms to cover the tiny life,

pressing soft earth to contain and protect the seed.

Barbara poured water over the mound.

The earth drank it up.

Each woman leaned back.

The work was over.


Now to sit, still, so still

and wait, just as the gardener waited,

watched, with foot propped to shovel-edge,

his hand resting on Rosie’s shoulder.


This was no ordinary waiting, in ordinary time.

Years, the two mothers watched

and Sonny leaned to see, as the ground was pushed

back by the fledgling plant, unrolling

its succulent stem so like the embrace

of a man and a woman,

indivisible and upward to the sun,

warm and open. Two branches broke out from the main

stem, opening to the roll of warmth that descended.


Reaching stems proffered leaves, like palms

of lovers asking and receiving the necessary,

Stems lengthened to vines, leaves widened

and the mothers watched, the gardener waited

till day faded–no ordinary day–and night’s moon

yearned halfway down. The vines folded

into each other, bent and twisted and wrapped

within each other, so like the life

of a man and woman and the night

was good and cool and close.


Yet the sun came back,

slow creep into black,

slow to pink the sky,

and orange the dawn.

Vines untwined, palms unfurled

and reached sunward so like imploring arms

of lovers.

And the mothers called

to others: Paul, Fred, Vickie, Jacquie,

Wendy, Dean, Flora, Louie,

Michele, Nancy, Bonnie, Ike.


Now is the time,

full and open is the day

no ordinary day, no ordinary time

as vines bear fruit,

unnameable fruit,

two distinct kinds from one plant,

so like two friends

of the compassionate kind.


And the people hear

and the people gather

at the gate to watch the mothers

and the growing vines

and the gardener keeps hoeing, hoeing.

To Boy Danny


[portrait of Andre Salmon by Moise Kisling, 1912]

To Boy Danny

Hey boy,

I’m misty, boy,

Yeah I’m misty

Twisting snake of a


I undulate

Just for you.

My sweet mouth

Waits for your taste,

Boy, sweet boy,

What are you doing


I see you know.

You eye my crust.

Don’t tell now, ok?

Just come over here.

My breath hots you up.

Don’t pretend;

For dinosaur years

I’ve seen that flush.

You want my flesh,

My ash-ridden, brown leather


You’re just like them all

With your hot flush,


Your eyes suck for more,

You know, boy, you know,

You could cry at me,

Couldn’t you?

Don’t pity me now, ok?

For dinosaur years

I’ve flicked my ash

On sleeping trash

Of genitals with arms

And legs.

Sure, I’ll dance for you,

Squeeze my used body

To places you like.

Do you want that?

Do you want that, boy?

You can’t look at me,

I spare you that.

You would drown,

Little boy,

If you saw me,

So I shade my eyes

And sway my black,

So you don’t have to look,

Not yet.

You know, boy . . .

One day your mirror

Will spill your black.

Your black,

Then come back, boy,

I’ll wipe the ash

From you,

Sweet boy.