Jackhammers rattled the walls with stammered curses & I
awoke from a dream of soft-spoken longing–what I want,
ungiven. The window, a rectangle of brilliance I couldn’t enter; thus now, to
retain some sense of holiness I go
to Tompkins Square, but even the monkey bar set escapes the playground, sneaks in
the fenced areas to dance where it says not to tread. The
daffodils so alluring, I can’t blame them. One mother yells, I’m gonna tan your back-
side. She pauses before they both laugh–he hasn’t taken the proverbial yard,
just wants to loaf in the grass, little Whitman. Now
& then I can still hear work crews–steel grates crashing into place, &
a vagrant offers to trade a hug for a dollar. Maybe
today I’ll tell the woman I love that I love her & she will take down
her voice to whisper something about romance, about passion. The
city of my heart is always under construction, it seems. Alley
cats yowl in heat, its children grow into leather jackets. Where
are the priests who’d forgive us these trespasses? The park holds little solace, the
grey squirrels on his haunches begs for scraps–this city of charity,
Tompkins Square awash in morning light. On the swings those children
shout louder than hardhats, their voices bright windows of play.
* * *
The Hungry & the Prey
Three days & still no sun.
No precipitation either—
just the same
gun-metal sky, the same purple
& white flowering trees. In East Texas
every storm risks flash floods, but
right now I’d welcome rain
that might portent change. At night
possum & raccoon rattle & scratch,
knock over trash cans. A dog bays
in fits of longing, then others
join in, howling.
* * *
In the backseat of my mother’s Plymouth
I learned the melodies & most of the words
to “Summer Breeze” & “American Pie,”
singing along with Don McLean
although I didn’t know what a levee was–
or whiskey or rye, for that matter.
How strange it must’ve been–I was three,
singing This’ll be the day that I die
& it may have been, actually, when that car
crashed into an ambulance . . .
Like so many incidents, I still have the scars
& a memory–am I making this up?–
me singing in Maimomedies Hospital.
My mother says still today she loves
the voices of choir boys, but I imagine
her terror when a different ambulance
whisked me away, my blood splattered
on the dashboard (this was the 70s
when seatbelts seemed so unnecessary).
There had been an accident:
imagine her worry, her heartache,
could I recognize it even then
before I possessed the language of empathy?
I sang & she cried & so I sang.
* * *
In a Bad Time
after Wallace Stevens
Because loneliness in Jersey City is all
grey stones & grey pigeons, I left it, & the rain
that seemed ubiquitous & ambivalent both,
& the pedestrians with their packages.
At that moment my life seemed like a continual conversation
with a silent man, or perhaps, more accurately,
like two mimes communicating, for I had nothing
left to say, & what Valentines I’d received
might as well have been postcards from a volcano
–all distance & heat & bearing the possibility
of disaster. So I did what I had to do:
took a holiday in reality by crossing the Hudson.
In Manhattan–that golden woman in a silver mirror–
it was raining too, of course,
& as it turns out the men who are falling
in New Jersey are also falling in the Village–
falling in love or into despair or
into themselves. Every handbill advised
how to live, how to be, but I refused it all
for it was an evening without angels, without fanfare
without anybody pointing me out on the street, calling my name.