Driving Down Division

Driving Down Division


Division Street divides Spokane like a scar
from stem to stern
from north to south
dividing west from east
heart from liver
you might find
Al’s Motel on one side
with its hourly rates
and crusted bloody sheets
or on the other side find
St. Al’s church with its
collection plates
and Jesuit schemes
in the middle you might
find yourself in transit
driving down Division.

The Past

I wake up tied up
to a bed in Al’s Motel
the taste of sawdust in my mouth
what time is it? the April sky
is overcast overeasy
pigeon shit on the window
stains my view
and I strain at the thought of
how did that pigeon shit
fly sideways to land there?
there’s a song in my head
Annie wants a baby
she was my love long ago
many missing pieces ago
before the millionth abortion
before I left and lost my head
the room is surprisingly clean
it reeks of cigarettes and stale perfume
but the reek is a grace note
threading through the death march
playing a throbbing in my brain
the reek is a puzzle piece
that might fit somewhere
if I could only find the puzzle
if I could only untie these knots
bitch, that bitch tied me up
and took my money
by the looks of it
she even took my boots
and the sunshine I saved inside those boots
that bitch but who could blame her.

The Future

I fall asleep kneeling at the altar rail
in St. Al’s church, Christ like a
piece of a puzzle on my tongue
tasting like sawdust but washed down
with wine and blood, accident and substance
the stained glass windows black in the dark
my soul black but washed clean
ready to burn white
now and at the time of my death
O brother death, O bright wings
over the bent world
over my bent soul
over the gaping hole in my bent soul
the gaping godshaped hole
there’s a song in my head
Annie wants a baby
she was my love long ago
and now I see her dark eyes
the church is cluttered with statues
and cast-off sins swept by the wind
like puzzle pieces scattered
the leftover smell of incense and oil
a hospital for sinners
or a morgue
it makes no difference to my soul
it makes no difference to my spirit
I don’t look back
my hand is on the plow
my boots are far below
the moon setting the sun rising
blameless, eternal, alive.

The Present

You Can Call Me Al
is playing on the radio
I’m driving down Division
and I am divided
you can call me Al
or you can call me Zimmy
you can call me Simon
or you can call me Garfunkel
I am a man divided
and there’s a crack in my windshield
it runs the length of it
there’s a crack in my soul
and ice that wants to wedge there
to break me in two
something wants to split me
and destroy me
but something else
with fiery wings
wants to drive down in me
down my division
and weld me together
I can see that now
I can see a bird high overhead
it might be an eagle or a big hawk, hunting
swooping and diving
I keep driving
through the sweet smell of my own sweat
down Division down into the city
my boot sole gentle on the gas pedal
down town down
into the heart of it
a new song comes on
Annie wants a baby
missing pieces she’s got
a lot of them
so do I, so do I.


  1. Very excellent. Thanks so much.

  2. Indeed.


  3. Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

    You already know the difference between the size and speed of everything that flashes through you and the tiny inadequate bit of it all you can ever let anyone know. As though inside you is this enormous room full of what seems like everything in the whole universe at one time or another and yet the only parts that get out have to somehow squeeze out through one of those tiny keyholes you see under the knob in older doors. As if we are all trying to see each other through these tiny keyholes.

    [T]his is what it’s like. [It’s] what makes room for the universes inside you, all the endless inbent fractals of connection and symphonies of different voices, the infinities you can never show another soul. […] But at the same time it’s why it feels so good to break down and cry in front of others, or to laugh, or speak in tongues, or chant in Bengali–it’s not English anymore, it’s not getting squeezed through any hole.

    –Wallace, David Foster. ‘Good Old Neon’. Oblivion.


    The self has no sign of itself. No signifier applies. All signifiers apply equally. […] For me, all signifiers fit me, one as well as another. I am rascal, hero, craven, brave, treacherous, loyal, at once the secret hero and [EXPLETIVE]hole of the Cosmos.

    You are not a sign in your world. Unlike the other signifiers in your world which form more or less stable units with the perceived world-things they signify, the signifier of yourself is mobile, freed up, and operating on a sliding semiotic scale from -∞ to ∞.

    The signified of the self is semiotically loose and caroms around the Cosmos like an unguided missile.

    –Percy, Walker. ‘A Semiotic Primer of the Self’. Lost in the Cosmos.


    Jonathan Potter’s quadripartite poem ‘Driving Down Division’, first published on the eve of Palm Sunday 2013, is a superb achievement — and a strange one […].

    –Nguyen, Angelico. ‘Comment 33594’. Korrektiv (March 2013).

    • Jonathan Potter says

      Thanks Angelico. The strangeness of the poem might in part be explained by the fact that is a collaborative project with a visual artist. We were given the theme of Hotel Spokane, did some brainstorming which resulted in a sketch by the artist, which inspired the poem. Now the artist (Scott Nicks) is doing a large triptych painting. The poem and the painting will be presented together at Get Lit in Spokane in April.

  4. It is the ugliest street in the entire universe. My soul died a little bit at every seeing. And now you’ve gone and made me feel kinds wistful for it. How God-like. Thanks.

    • Jonathan Potter says

      Thanks Peacock. Do you ever get back to the Kan? You should look me up next time you do. I agree it’s a malaise infested street. But there are some graces to be found there, especially as you descend toward the river and the humble little city spreads out its welcome mat.

  5. Lickona's gnawing nostalgia says

    You ever read Ironweed? This is like that. Only better in some ways.

  6. It’s Charles Bukowski meets Peter Maurin is what it is.



    • Jonathan Potter says

      Good call on the C.B. I was shooting for Bukowski crossed with Keats and haunted by Kierkegaard and Hopkins, but I’ll take Peter Maurin.

  7. The bitch makes it CB, but you’re in Maurinland here:

    there’s a crack in my soul
    and ice that wants to wedge there
    to break me in two
    something wants to split me
    and destroy me
    but something else
    with fiery wings
    wants to drive down in me
    down my division
    and weld me together



  8. Jonathan Potter says
  9. Were they your lucky boots?

  10. Matthew Lickona says

    Potter did a fine reading of this after dinner one evening at Guemes ’14. Someone suggested that everyone write something that included the term “hourly rates.” So we did.

    Man, creation’s silly ass,
    May meet the God he loves and hates
    Every Sunday morn at Mass;
    Eternity at hourly rates.

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