“are bones and red blood, dressed in flesh, to hold a soul.” (Janis Krug)

Under All the Layers

by Janis Krug

A city’s finest peacocks flocked and strutted,
dressed to celebrate the opening of the opera,
but perhaps this rosy, roughed extravaganza
was the opening of a vague Pandora’s box.
All were scintillating with complacent smiles,
the ladies ruffled, most in black or white silk satin,
and festooned with diamonds cut from the heart of Africa,
like bright teeth drooled from ears or cuffing hands.
There were necklaces, one worth five 3-bedroom houses,
hung like phosphorescent millstones at their throats.
Each dame paid thousands to flounce their gown among the flock.
“Let Them Eat Cake” was what a write-up called this gala.
And I bristle, angered with such foolish wealth,
though I know that underneath their fancy clothes
are bones and red blood, dressed in flesh, to hold a soul.

People wearing all they own upon their backs
life one city block away from the Opera House.
Some weary down to sleep on hard, green slats
and an emptiness they fall through on a bench.
A cold night sky without a bulb becomes a leaky roof,
while traffic, pierced with sirens, chugs a lullaby.
they breathe exhaust fumes through no windows with no glass, no walls,
and too many moons, too bright on poles, shine in their eyes.
Some of those sleeping have not tasted yet today
the simple pleasure of a starchy piece of bread,
and may dream tonight about a tasty sweet
or the fabled cake that baked a revolution.
And I cringe with pain, but can hardly meet their eyes,
though I know that underneath their tattered clothes
are bones and red blood, dressed in flesh, to hold a soul.

“Under All the Layers,” by Janis Krug originally published in City Scriptum ([Forum] 1989, City College of San Francisco).

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