Angel’s Flight

by Janet Lees

after Millard Sheets’s painting ‘Angel’s Flight’

Only just May and hot as hell
at the top of Angel’s Flight
behind the glass that keeps you from the sky,
your hip jutting out like a threatened cliff,
that malted milkshake dress declaring
every bump you’ve ever ridden roughshod over,
cradling the vacancy inside – too many children all grown
all gone: to Detroit, the Dakotas, may as well be the moon,
and little Elspeth to her grave that day
you wore these same black shoes
and stood beside your mother
who stands beside you now, looking down
at the people in caps and headscarves
embarking on the steps that tumble
from the sky like ad lib jazz,
your future self among them trudging up to meet you,
mouth opened up to heaven
singing the song of the city of angels,
of laundry strung between buildings
drying faster than sweat in the ancient wind
that ladies rocking on verandas part their thighs to feel,
nodding at the yellow house too full of shame to talk –
if the roaches could they’d turn the air
blue with obtuse tales of lust and loss –
which brings you back to that dream of riding Angel’s Flight
with your real life red-haired Lucifer, not stopping
at the top but going on, up and up and then
the stall, the loss of power, the fall
back down into the city that they named you for –
Angela, another A for Always, your daddy used to say –
and now your mother’s talk, her look,
the angle of her head as it tilts down just so,
the small starched feathers of her lips,
all of that burrows into your own yellow house and
with forked tongue tells you why if not exactly how
you have to fall, how it comes to us all,
even the twin vermillion cars of this funicular,
destined to fail after 68 untainted years
held together by a single cable,
hauling more souls per mile
than any other railroad in the world.