Joseph Awad

The Neon Distances

The Evolving City Issue
Volume 8:4, Fall 2007

The Neon Distances

Surfacing into evening
From the smoky basement bar,
We stalk the rose red neon distances.
Past storefronts, windowed mannikins,
Alleys that narrow into slits, locked cars,
Laddered windows into nothing leaning,
We roam the streets of the lost absolute
On the make for meaning.

We shop the open doorways, taking in,
Under pink or yellow canopies
Or frolicking marquees, the grinding din–
Humping bass and screaming brass, the pleas
Of Come on baby, baby, amplified.
A nude, illuminated, hips asway,
Turns on and off, like instincts half suppressed,
Pleasures proffered, snatched away.

A cross of neon, like a laceration,
Bleeds where midtown towers, partly lit,
Lose their identities in the darkening skyline,
Like profiles in a bar or those that drift
Through dreams. Closer, the cross says Jesus Saves.
We turn the corner, out of step with grace,
Electric letters hanging in the night.
Another time. Another place.


Joseph Awad (May 17, 1929 — July 17, 2009) is the author of six books of poems, including Late Into the Night (Prospero's World Press, 2010), The Big Bang (Poet's Press, 1999), and The Neon Distances (Golden Quill Press, 1980). He was Poet Laureate of Virginia from 1998 to 2000. Born in PA, he moved to DC in 1939 when his father opened a barber shop in the Mayflower Hotel. He was educated at Georgetown University and George Washington University, and worked for the Reynolds Metals Company from 1957 to 1993, retiring as executive vice president of public relations. Awad served as president of the Poetry Society of Virginia, and on the Board of Directors for the New Virginia Review and the Friends of the Richmond Library. To read more by this author: DC Places Issue, Whitman Issue