We’ve run a maze of outdoor market stalls,
racing as if to catch the last display,
ultimate in old recycled ware—
a line of clouds above the mountains, where
a gold brocade is being drawn away.
More often, though, we’ve stopped
and lingered in the jumble, browsed for brass,
turned back to find each other, table-hopped
like ravens drawn by random bits of glass,
but though we’ve rushed or shopped,
we bought no time, and so the evening falls.
Those curios that light had animated
are blowing out; the leaden clouds drift west,
and chrome no longer signals from the tables.
A sour woman crates her orange crate labels
Adios, California Dream, Hope Chest,
Cascade O’ Gold, and Magic Isle
(Come back, O Persian Moon, shine overhead)
She adds the last two boxes to a pile
and gives a waiting van the go-ahead.
You catch her eye and smile;
how speedily our passing day gets freighted.
And standing on this playground of what was,
we watch as vendors straight from central casting
pack up a generation’s worth of kitsch;
their aspects underscore that life’s a bitch
and nothing, no, not nothing’s everlasting.
Our picking’s secondhand and scant,
and none of it endures or can be caught,
but then, the instant that I know it can’t,
a joy that bounds horizons fills my thought—
faint as a dying chant—
It is enough, and has to do, and does.
The poem appears in the book “Virtue, Big as Sin” by Frank Osen.
Frank Osen was born in Yokosuka, Japan, in 1954, grew up in Southern California and is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley and Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. Mary Jo Salter described “Virtue, Big as Sin” as offering “one witty, elegant poem after another.”