THE GREAT UNKNOWN
by Bruce Boston & Alessandro Manzetti

i

Night, the Great Unknown,
rolled up in its own shadows,
waits with open jaws
for the night shift, the smell
of Detective Samuel Sandoval.
Night misses his old blue coat
from when he walked a beat.
It remembers the brass buttons
and the stale crumbs
of communion wafers
embedded in its threads.

Sandoval moves along
the riverside drive
followed by a skinny rat.
After an ten-hour shift,
he walks aimlessly
in the dark morning,
still high on adrenaline
and nicotine and hate.
He has to come down
before he can return
to his wife and children
and suburban refuge.

Sandoval hasn’t been
to church for years.
He no longer remembers
the face of Jesus Christ.
The last time he saw it,
it was swinging on
the silver medallion
of an ethnic gang leader,
crudely carved with
no look of suffering
anointing its features.
Rather it smiled at him.
And so did the gang leader.
A mocking sarcastic smile
that seemed to be saying,
‘Calvary, up to you now, man!’

Sandoval has been working
the night shift for five years.
He tries not to remember
the blood-scattered lines
and faults of that passage,
the lives lost along the way.
Night, the Great Unknown,
fate in bone-cold vestments,
is preparing his own demise,
dramatic and startling
or chill and indifferent
as the stone city itself.

ii

Rashida is sixteen-years-old.
Her boyfriend made her
swallow too many jelly shots.
Then he slapped her
because she would not
sleep with him,
because she wanted
to remain a virgin
until she was married.
For her, Sex is the
great dark Unknown.

She runs down the alleyway
to the riverside drive,
running away from
her boyfriend and herself,
running from a future
that is rushing too fast,
her teeth so very white
in the intermittent lights
spaced along the river.
In the long patches
of shadow in between,
Night, the Great Unknown,
claims her with its wing.

iii

Sandoval sees a flash to his right
moving fast, far too fast,
moving toward him,
a shifting flash and a shadow.
He imagines the blade of a knife
that shines in the river lights,
in the black leather of nowhere,
a blade that seeks his flesh.

“Not yet,” he thinks “Not yet,”
while Rashida runs closer,
mouth open, breathing heavily.
Sandoval hears that harsh breath.
Night, the Great Unknown
touches the back of his coat
with its unsheathed claws.

“Chills. Do you feel them, man?”
“Yeah!”

In an extended fraction
of a fractured second,
Sandoval draws his
revolver from its
shoulder strap
and shoots blindly
-- once! twice! --
aiming at that sharply
shimmering light that
is nearly upon him.
The shots echo off
the condominiums
that rise along the river.

“Calvary, up to you now, man!”
“‘Who’s speaking?” Sandoval asks.

The only answer is the
rush of the river passing.
The body on the ground
has stopped moving.

iv.

Sandoval kneels beside
the body of Rashida,
curled on its side,
a silver lipstick tube
clutched in one hand.
She’s no longer masked
by the wing of night.
Her face has become
that of a girl surprised
by a sudden rainfall,
by the first and last
thunder of her life.

“Your blood…is mine…,”
Sandoval whispers
to the dead girl,
to the Great Unknown.
He has never seen the
face of an angel before.

Twin windows light up
in the building that
rises above him,
throwing his shadow
on the cracked asphalt,
then a third window,
where the Great Unknown
suddenly appears
in its shadow flesh,
dressed as a tall magician
with a top hat on his head.

A snap of the fingers
lights his long cigarette.
He inhales deeply as
he savors the scene below
as if it were a work of art.
Then he exhales and
blows a coat of fog
across the city.

Sandoval hears a siren.
Someone has called
in the disturbance.
He knows he should run,
yet he remains standing,
half bent over the body.
Though his face is
in complete darkness,
its silhouette is composed
of hard angles and lines.

He realizes that
he won’t be going
home to his family
and the suburbs tonight.
Instead he has been
crucified on the cross
of the Great Unknown.
Soon his own cohorts
will be coming with
their flashing lights
to carry him away.

“Calvary, man!”



from the collection
SACRIFICIAL NIGHTS