Entering the City of the Dead

Train sways slightly with the
heat-bent movement of the tracks,
cooling as the evening advances.
We should enter the city at twilight,
or not at all;
we must pass through darkly muraled gates
as the sun begins its stygian transit
(so said the most convincing conductor).

Passing in, the moon is already
painting the boroughs in thin light.
The sky is hot from the journey of the sun, and as
we rattle between forlorn condos,
the dead emerge in their clean white skin.
Tonight is a party, it seems.
Tonight is a party, under freshly blooming magnolia.
The carriage shuttles deeper into the night—
stars press through the sky like lilies,
like the city exploding in cherry petals
in March.

The station is shrouded in light,
is streamed in red and black, in yellow and white.
We, fleshy tourists, gasp at the
crackle of skeletal pigeons, searching the platform
for ghostly crumbs, but the station is clean,
is polished tiles and burnished rails.

Out in the night, the city is papier-mâché,
is tissue paper scarves on collarbones
(the dead must feel cold, without their skin).
We wander, separating, through a forest of laughing bones,
until I am alone or alive, in the host of the dead.

A crowd of eyeless sockets staring
at my flesh, their revelry seems
invaded by a hint of pity, could it be
that the dead do not envy the living, as though
it were a dreadful burden to be so clothed.

A flare in the sky averts their black gaze,
the fireworks of bright phantasms dancing,
like living fire, these, the voices beyond the curtain of flame.
I move to an alley where the silhouette
of the skyline plays like so many creatures
over clean graffiti, red-scrubbed bricks.

I reason that the dead have no need of
food, of waste, of flies following
garbage trucks like funeral biers,
so the lanes and streets, the whole damn city scene,
is picked as clean as their bones.

But tonight is a party, so I
find a magnolia blossom and pin it to my shirt,
white, like a ward for bones.

A dance has begun, and I grasp at passing phalanges,
pulled in a clattering circle, I was
never one for dances, but my feet seem to know the steps.
The conductor told us this might happen,
“you may find yourself in dancing circles” he said,
“but your feet will know that rhythm, long prepared.”

As we spin, the spirits descend
to form a rustling fire in our midst.
I see some fellow passengers, also—
“One night only, tonight is a party” he said—
The voices of fire are speaking against my skin—
“Once in a lifetime.” “This is a once in a lifetime trip.”