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Crow Medicine. by John Sullivan

For Carlos Ortiz, former champ
Crow Medicine
against the sun
Crow Medicine does it up all right: against infinitum,
against obbligatos of skin on skin, Crow Medicine
resuscitates    and flowers in the bone    to focus, rise,
take my own fall on my own    my bitter Crow Medicine,
against the R/E/M flutter of my love’s eyelids.

This Crow Medicine: don’t come bottled up, don’t go
down neat, don't lace the throat with clear dumb wonder.
Dream back the laws of whirling, o my love, cross
that street we never could sweat, dream back adrenalin
while I draw the Mad Queen from her funny deck, again,
I hold her cocked, while I grease myself for another
shot at yet another crown, Carlos Ortiz, I beat against
that temple, again, like you did hunting
Crow Medicine among the poshed, gente suave, very
blooded chosen ones: los completamente perdidos.

I scoped how you steered your hunger
with your own hands. You hammered men, you pinned
men to the ropes and made ‘em wail. You sucked up
Crow Medicine and “pitched a wang-dang-doodle all
night” while you stalked men, while you hurt men
bloody with those sleek hands. You held your arms
out in a wide V and smiled as men twitched
on the canvas    staring at your feet
into noplace.

Until your legs went out, or your wind.
Until your greed for agony dried up.
You lost your wife, your kids, the busted slide
and swagger of your old life tomcattin’ through
the cold, flat-water Borinqueño neighborhoods, hunting high-life and ceremony. Now you drive cab for a living way beyond that will to murder for fat stogies from Havana,
or a clean white hat.
But I still sweat through sleep on that same medicine.
I scout all over Used-Town for fresh Crow Medicine,
where cabs don't go, now, I find myself
this not-yet-light AM.

I stare down my third cup of coffee.
I stare down my last Wonder Muffin burned beyond
the norms of sacrifice while Striga, eyeless as ever, stirs up the alley, coughs hard, as slack-winged, rusted ancients dip from their own dreams, and the Ice Witch drags
her whoopie sad, twists her face up in a sneer, and spits
at me through those fake lips of cunning: “Baby, if
I done told you once, then I told you twice again, you go find yourself a Queen Bee on your own side
of North Avenue.”

I stare down through this avatar of Holy Lilith,
say, I stare down through this diver, caught with me together—who blinks first?—inside a city squeeze of glass, bone flute, stone canyon echoes, and skin that just bleeds same old same old blood.

Say, I stare down hard through pixilated newsguys, and the everywhere eye of their cameras, looking back at Carlos Ortiz, him saying just for the camera, saying hard, calm and level—this is the shot: I am Carlos Ortiz, champ for a long time damn good best going ever don’tcha know. I stalked, I hammered men, I burned down each night with Crow
Medicine, and some mink coat-wearin’ suelta como gabete out slummin’–see she dip her sweet tongue into my mouth on a dare-you-to and give herself, for art, so she says, over to the art of my hands, and then later, steady tries to look all used up and sullen in my mirror.

Oye, camarada, I’m too really used by all
those nights to throw a fake, now. Those goddamn nights
and all that Crow Medicine weighed down my hands, made
my fine hands, gran poder, pero aún hermosa y tierna,
too slow for the real work.
Now I drive this cab because to pray is too easy.
And I grip this wheel and steer with two slow hands
that never get to eat what they need.

I still love these hands so much, o my greatest love, I
leveled heaven with these hands, I saved nothing
from the art of my love    nothing    I am
Carlos Ortiz, a craftsman of pain and beauty    never
more myself than these slow, humble hands but
o my love.


John Sullivan received the Jack Kerouac Literary Prize, Writers Voice: New Voices of the West Award, AZ Arts Fellowships (poetry / playwriting), Artists Studio Center Fellowship, WESTAF Fellowship, was a featured playwright at Denver's Changing Scene Summer Play (Changing Scene Theatre), and an Eco-Arts Performance fellow from Earth Matters on Stage - University of Oregon. He was Artistic/Producing Director of Theater Degree Zero, and directed the Augusto Boal / Theatre of the Oppressed focused applied theatre wing at Seattle Public Theater. For the past decade he has used Theatre of the Oppressed with communities to promote dialogue on Cumulative Risk / Environmental Justice / Citizen Science issues among EJ communities and activists and NIEHS environmental health scientists. His work has been published by various lit journals including: Hayden's Ferry Review, Black Bear Review, the Lucid Stone, California Quarterly, Steel Toe Review, OVS, Oddball, et al.