The Bars of Bethlehem


By R.T. Castleberry

Jet wing contrails seam
the painter’s waves of winter clouds.
A filter of mist drifts, dissipating
over the curve coil of a train,
patched wet streets of tar strips,
panels of loose sheet metal.
The homeless park is chain-locked,
squatters lost to TB streets.
Through a dusk of luminous storefronts,
merchants’ clerks water the winter poplars,
chatter with leisure walkers, winded bicyclists.
At the Black Mask Hotel
I hang in the balcony bar,
Sunday pseudonym in place.
Sipping a dark rum mojito,
I savor the slipping beauty
of cell phone callers in skinny jeans,
earbud students clicking at their future,
shimmer of shot glass and ice cube liquor.
The shoe shine kid finishes my boots,
a waitress mutters, “Beware the suspects
at your side, in your house.”
Current with politics, I smile,
“Keep the gun case locked until I leave.”
A tourist today,
I raced my teens, my twenties
around these corners,
twisted “absentee” to “orphan,”
orphan to empathy, a free seat at the rail.
Amnesiac by choice, empty as ever
I visit to decide one good memory.
As a grinning tip, I leave five dollars in
a bookmarked Ian Fleming
 novel.
As I reach the archway stairs,
the bartender scans Sirius radio,
pulls up “Money Changes Everything.”
Beyond Redbone Alley,
a food truck simmers in its sauces.

T-shirted skaters eat Tex-Mex tamales on
the cracked, construction sidewalk.
Sunset’s mist has deepened to fog.
It feels like banked embers,
like night nesting birds.
In later hours I’ll remember
graveside children,
flames touched to cigarette tips,
the skip a needle makes on scratched vinyl.


R.T. Castleberry is a co-founder of the Flying Dutchman Writers Troupe and co-editor/publisher of the poetry magazine Curbside Review. He was a 2014 Pushcart Prize nominee. His chapbook, Arriving at the Riverside, was published by Finishing Line Press in January, 2010. An e-book, Dialogue and Appetite, was published in May, 2011.

Photo Credit: Charles Tatum

Photo Credit: Charles Tatum