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Two Poems about Brooklyn
AS A PLANE THAT SAILS ABOVE THE CITY
This poem was written about 1977.
Not a word.
The grass crackled;
The river, tranquil in its flowing width,
Uttered not a word.
The hills, deep silhouettes,
And you, Bob, strained to see,
Gazing at the misty hills,
Your feet clattering on flat, smooth stones,
Your arms dangling,
Till the sun rose behind a hill,
Spilling light on blinded ridges,
Washing the pink and purple of the sky
To bright wash of yellow.
Bob, you were scuffing at the stones;
You were embarrassed before the sun.
The stones scattered under your nervous kick
Like loose bones.
The river, pregnant and smooth,
Flowed past benignly without a word.
Your sister swivels in her chair,
Her hair in a white bun.
Thick, gray strands
Stray across her shoulders.
Head bent, pressing the phone to her shoulder,
She is talking to her lover,
In the littered living room
Of a duplex home
On a miles-long stretch
Of two-story houses,
Trees bending over the street
Like a green, interminable tunnel,
Dropping powdery, green seeds
Scattered on the quiet streets
Where children on high-handlebar bikes
Ride to the side to let the cars pass.
Your father is touching his toes,
His bare chest fleshy and pale.
Your father is disillusioned
But he believes in you
And he tolerates your Escher prints
And Captain Beefheart.
The chipped bookshelves
In your shaggy house
Are stuffed with Village Voices,
Manchild in the Promised Land,
Moses, by Sigmund Freud...
Your mother is frying hamburgers,
And shakes vegetables from a can.
Her thick long hair in a pony-tail
Hangs to her hips, like a teen-age girl's.
Your father has put on his shirt
And is looking at an insurance form.
Your sister holds her bundle of hair against her head
And stabs at it with a hairpin.
You eat your hamburger
And sodden broccoli,
Making manic remarks,
But no one pays attention.
The New York Times
On the varnished walnut floor
Is washed white in the morning
In Stuyvesant Projects.
The sun is white on white curtains,
The coffee steaming in white mugs.
Sunday, late morning,
The hanging spider plants are lacy and green;
The day is lazy,
And you can do what you want.
Strips of sunlight light the white walls,
And a fresh breeze is blowing.
You are sitting before your coffee,
Thinking of your stepmother;
You are thinking of Christine,
Who is hiking in Wyoming;
You are thinking of Bob,
Who sits opposite you,
And of the Cloisters,
Where you had walked together;
And you are thinking of Bob's eyes,
Which are jangling and impersonal.
Last night you watched
Color TV together,
And Bob went to sleep
In your stepsister's room.
A white scud of milk
Is spinning like a galaxy,
Thinning, drifting out,
And you drink your coffee.
You put the mugs in the sink
As Bob sits on the Mexican, straw-seat chair,
And the foaming white water
Sluices the cups,
And sprays your green and yellow striped dress
Bob is picking through the New York Times,
Looking at the Arts and Leisure section,
Making sarcastic remarks
At the crowded, wide page.
Then you both go downstairs
And walk in the park,
And sit together on a bench.
You play nervously with your sandal strap.
The day is bright and breezy
And as free as in a movie.
It is a carnival of green trees
And women passing with baby carriages.
The trees are intensely green
And the asphalt is bright silver gray.
A drunk asleep on a bench
Is outlined as clearly as in a painting.
You walk Bob to the subway station,
And then enter Lamston's for eggs and whole wheat bread.
You carry the brown bag in the sun;
Your dress is wonderful and sunny.
You go back up to your white apartment
And fix yourself lunch.
You stack the New York Times on the rocking chair
With the white, crocheted seat
For your stepmother to read
When she returns from Los Angeles.
And Bob, into what subway did you disappear,
With your paperback copy of Leaves of Grass,
As on the street a joyous, striped dress
Swirled like a flower above tan sandals?
Riva, you are dancing with the film-maker,
Your thin body leaping eagerly,
And he gingerly steps in place
On the toes of his boots.
You throw around your thin, intense body
To the live rock music
In the crowded, dark hall
Of Sarah Lawrence College.
And Bob walks in
And he stares at you.
He alone is unmoving
And everyone else is dancing.
It seems so terribly beautiful to him,
And he seems so starkly alien.
Dry leaves litter the walks
Before the russet-stone buildings
And you walk with Bob
The brilliant, white musician
Bangs at the keyboard.
His hair flows past his shoulders
And he is wearing mirror sunglasses.
The bass player and drummer
Are chasing his improvisations,
And people crowd over the piano
Watching his fingers.
Bob gazes at his fingers
Banging on the piano.
The brilliant musician raises his hands
And runs off arpeggios.
Everyone cheers wildly.
They are having a great time.
Around him, Sarah Lawrence students
Are talking loudly and moving their bodies.
Riva, Bob left you
To hitchhike back to Binghamton.
You look at your pretty face,
At your large, dark eyes,
At your thin, high cheeks,
At your aquiline nose,
And wonder why you had dressed up for Bob
When he came in,
And wonder what joy
You will get from the bright, white corridors
Of your dormitory, and from the library,
Where bright young men
Whose mothers are opera stars
Talk at you flamboyantly.
Bob is gone,
And you wish you could just dance
In a dark and blaring, crowded dance hall
Lights flashing across your face,
IV. The Beatles
Bob, you are standing in the dark lot
Between two dark houses.
A blazing freighter waits
Before the Verrazano Bridge,
Which is lit white and red
Over the black water.
Specks of light
Crawl across the sky,
And white lights smoothly move
Along the Belt Parkway.
You open your mouth
And sing Beatles songs.
This is your offering
To soothe your confusion.
You wish you could cry,
Though you don't know for what,
But you can't cry,
And you stare at the water.
Paths of light
Reach across the Narrows
To below your feet
On the insentient water.
You turn from the water
And jog down the blocks
Of two-story houses
Locked in darkness,
And sprint to a streetlamp,
Your heels not touching the ground.
Wisdom calls from the trees,
But you hear only the locust pods.
As the dragonfly darts,
So do you turn.
A meal without friends
Saps the sweetness from the heart of a man.
As a plane that sails above the city
So is the hope of a frustrated man.
Even wild apples ripen on the limb,
But a man alone is always bitter.
In winter the flower doesn't turn to the sun,
but the heart of a man is always turning.
Eleven years later
And evenings at The Bitter End,
Your sister living with her lover
Who jogs every day through Washington Square Park,
Your father semi-retired,
Your mother working as a temporary typist,
Abby, Riva, everyone,
Lost in the scattering years,
I wait for you by the turnstile.
You come jangling at me,
Hair still hanging in your eyes,
Wearing plastic, braided, tan shoes
With amber heels.
We walk on the dirty Park Slope street
To your brownstone apartment.
You share the first floor with a pre-med student
And a woman who bakes clay statues.
You show me the stacks of magazines
Packed in your closet.
You are going to be a journalist.
You pace, hair twitching.
We stroll through Prospect Park,
The lawn bare and damp.
Five black men on a bench listen to a radio
And a cool, moist wind is blowing.
Bob, how can I speak to you,
Bare as an abandoned lot in Brooklyn?
You walk the city streets,
Your skin brittle as shavings of concrete,
Skittish, scattered, pacing city streets,
Bob, you are talking and talking,
And I walk at your side mutely.
This poem is from about 1985.
1. My Beloved
You smile like a seagull above the wordless water.
Your eyes skim with adolescent joy
And bring me to a wind-blown plain
Where my heart calls home,
And the grasses answer, and the high, surpliced sky answers, home.
Tell me of your journey in the sky.
I have trudged upon the sand,
I have raised my eyes to the cloud-swathed moon
And sung before the shrouded sea.
Home, cry the jagged boulders,
Home, cry the autumn, color-splattered trees,
Home, cry the whirring wrens.
Home is in your bones, your eyes,
In the wind running eastward on the beach,
In the eyes of helicopters like fireflies,
In the pigeon that sweeps above the street,
Graceful as your sweeping arm.
2. My Journey Through Brooklyn
Tattered rag that I am,
Walking past Cortelyou Avenue
Before the sky turns gentle blue.
The wind lifts up a scrap of plastic
Scratching at a car.
Crows flap above the frozen school,
Their tall, wild cries in the bony branches.
The glowing bulbs before the homes,
The traffic lights, the fences
I breathe in the vast dawn
Fogged by a million cars,
And watch two cats slink through the alley,
Wary and alone.
The souls have lowered the blinds over their eyes.
Only the cats belong in the cold,
Fighting, mating, biding their time.
Brooklyn is a land without wisdom,
Her rooftops spreading like a dreary sea.
I hold my hopes like a child.
Babies' eyelids flutter.
They are dreaming of cocaine,
3. I Seek My Beloved in Sheepshead Bay
I looked for your eyes in Sheepshead Bay.
The sky wanted to swallow me up--
I let it.
The horseshoe crabs sent up plumes of dust,
The beach was covered with broken shells
Left by the seagulls.
They crackled under my feet
Like love letters I never wrote
That crackled in my bones.
The beach embraced me
Like a wind of solitude.
At night I saw you
At the corner of Quentin Avenue,
Gathering garlands of light
From the snow-covered ground.
I cried your name, but you had turned into an empty smock
That the wind crumpled and blew suddenly away.
You blew the tree leaves after you,
You blew the sky empty behind you.
Your hand was as cold
As the frozen bench.
You pulled it away from me
And a metal star glinted in the sky.
4. In Brighton Beach, I Turn to God
The sand is like a talisman.
The fishermen cast cages from the pier,
The beach lifts up its skirt and dances,
The foam breaks like voluptuous lace--
Your presence, effortless
Under the banners of clouds,
In the cold spray of dawn.
I meet your eyes in the subway,
Your coldness in the cobblestones.
Sometimes, when the sun is prowling like a cat,
I do not know you,
5. I Call for a Teacher
From this heartless street
And ceaseless odor of traffic,
I cry for a teacher--
A locust, a man,
The cry of a bird,
The darkness of a dirt path.
6. I Reach Out My Hand to God
I pass beneath your eyes
Like a duck racing before the horizon,
Pulling a net of sea behind him.
I pull the path of moonlight on the sea
About my shoulders
And turn to you within the wind.
I have looked for you on Ocean Parkway.
How can I seek you
Without a field, a petal,
The peeling bark of a poplar tree,
A moon sailing like a ruddy, pregnant globe
Within reach of my hand?
Your hand is a river
Flowing like a dream out of the night.
I tell you these words with fingers of dawn.