This poem closes out the "A Rage of Angels" series. It is thematically the least like the rest of the poems in the series, though perhaps there are some hints of things going a bit awry in the first one: the Angel of the City. Still, it does serve as a bit of a rude awakening from the others.
In many ways, it is a fairly dark poem, perhaps closest in spirit to The Way It Was When I Was There. Given they do have quite a bit of overlap at least in tone, it might just be too much for the two poems to actually co-exist in the same collection. It doesn't appear that will ever be an issue, however. I think of the two, I like Deliverance a bit better.
The most obvious inspiration is Jose Rivera's play Marisol. I suspect I had seen the play before writing the poem, but I am not 100% sure (I saw the play for the first time in 1995). I would have had experience dealing with homeless people in NYC by this point, but I think I also recollect a Toronto-based poet in a poetry group I attended in 1993 borrowing (figuratively) a homeless man's sign and incorporating it into his poem (and at least another established poet -- probably either Alan Dugan or Charles Reznikoff -- has done the same). Just for the record, I did not steal the words off of a homeless woman's sign. In addition to filching from Marisol, there may be some flashes of Findley's Headhunter in there. Again, I cannot recall exactly when I read that book for the first time. Perhaps if I keep digitizing my files (and ultimately my diary), I will be able to track down some answers. In the meantime, I present "Deliverance":
I woke in a city.
Was I in—
the city of lights,
the city of love,
the endless city,
the eternal city
or simply the unspeakable city?
I recall a bridge on fire,
cars falling through into a dark river,
a crowd scattering under black clouds.
It could have been the city of desperate angels.
sell themselves on the street,
organ by organ.
The rain does not rain down,
will not put out these fires.
Small children stumble through the streets,
stalked by alley cats.
One woman crouches under a broken plate glass window,
hiding a brick behind her back,
the other hand holding a sign:
“I want to be good —
in red ragged letters.
Growling dogs drag scraps of dirty, unspeakable meat to dark corners.
When two angels bump into each other,
heads averted or perhaps bowed,
One loses half its feathers,
while the other sits heavily, nursing a knife wound.
Both weep and pray for deliverance.