It’s not the best walk I’ve had, not by a long shot, down 86th street from 3rd Avenue to 18th Avenue
but it’s mine and I’ve gotten used to it, the spots where there is no shade in the blazing summer sun or the way the forest by the park smells just like the one back home.
But in the rain, it takes on a certain feeling, cause no one is else is walking 2 and a half miles in wet flip flops with Greetings From Asbury Park in their ears
and if they are, well they aren’t doing it down 86th street cause it’s empty nearly the whole way and the rain has been coming down for weeks now washing away the snails and the leaves that cling to the stone wall by the big houses near 13th Avenue.
When I pass our window, you are already inside, dry, though you must have been caught in it too. Your feet up on the coffee table, the orange light glowing, the cat in the window, a book in your hand, killing time, waiting for me, because I am late, and because there are drinks to be made and stories to tell, inside, where it’s dry.
Every way ends, every road, every foot-path leads at last to the hill-crest— then you retrace your steps, or find the same slope on the other side, precipitate.
I have had enough— border-pinks, clove-pinks, wax-lilies, herbs, sweet-cress.
O for some sharp swish of a branch— there is no scent of resin in this place, no taste of bark, of coarse weeds, aromatic, astringent— only border on border of scented pinks.
Have you seen fruit under cover that wanted light— pears wadded in cloth, protected from the frost, melons, almost ripe, smothered in straw?
Why not let the pears cling to the empty branch? All your coaxing will only make a bitter fruit— let them cling, ripen of themselves, test their own worth, nipped, shrivelled by the frost, to fall at last but fair With a russet coat.
Or the melon— let it bleach yellow in the winter light, even tart to the taste— it is better to taste of frost— the exquisite frost— than of wadding and of dead grass.
For this beauty, beauty without strength, chokes out life. I want wind to break, scatter these pink-stalks, snap off their spiced heads, fling them about with dead leaves— spread the paths with twigs, limbs broken off, trail great pine branches, hurled from some far wood right across the melon-patch, break pear and quince— leave half-trees, torn, twisted but showing the fight was valiant.
O to blot out this garden to forget, to find a new beauty in some terrible wind-tortured place.
Whatever happens with us, your body will haunt mine - tender, delicate your lovemaking, like the half-curled frond of the fiddlehead fern in forests just washed by sun. Your traveled, generous thighs between which my whole face has come and come - the innocence and wisdom of the place my tongue has found there - the live, insatiate dance of your nipples in my mouth - your touch on me, firm, protective, searching me out, your strong tongue and slender fingers reaching where I had been waiting years for you in my rose-wet cave - whatever happens, this is.
If I lay on that beach with you white, empty, pure green water warmed by the Gulf Stream and lying on that beach we could not stay because the wind drove fine sand against us as if it were against us if we tried to withstand it and we failed - if we drove to another place to sleep in each other’s arms and the beds were narrow like prisoners’ cots and we were tired and did not sleep together and this was what we found, so this is what we did - was the failure ours? If I cling to circumstances I could feel not responsible. Only she who says she did not choose, is the loser in the end.
I want a red dress. I want it flimsy and cheap, I want it too tight, I want to wear it until someone tears it off me. I want it sleeveless and backless, this dress, so no one has to guess what’s underneath. I want to walk down the street past Thrifty’s and the hardware store with all those keys glittering in the window, past Mr. and Mrs. Wong selling day-old donuts in their café, past the Guerra brothers slinging pigs from the truck and onto the dolly, hoisting the slick snouts over their shoulders. I want to walk like I’m the only woman on earth and I can have my pick. I want that red dress bad. I want it to confirm your worst fears about me, to show you how little I care about you or anything except what I want. When I find it, I’ll pull that garment from its hanger like I’m choosing a body to carry me into this world, through the birth-cries and the love-cries too, and I’ll wear it like bones, like skin, it’ll be the goddamned dress they bury me in.
"Things fall apart," Tide not turning. Melting away profoundly In darkness The sun.
And I, Like every other day A global world-sized wreck Glaring white, A hollowed art Flattened pastures, Facing an abandoned cave Where a tear is The only water Spilled into Emptiness.
And I Said to be a big star Whom night made sunset Believe in So what? A mere light gleam Where fate Grins its last laugh?
And I What if I had not been, My parents’ sculpture And was expecting my shadow To change its direction Running over my euphony Eclipsing me Partially Wholly And what if l jump over obstacles In the eclipsed noon
Into darkened sea waves To see terror in your Blindfolded eyes And what if, Oh trembling ones, I, Coming out In mid-eclipse, Purified my soul of you?
The land is theirs Where my sky ascends And descends Over the size of my head only Images retreat Behind my sky The blood is leeched from them And leaves me Like night lilies Mined The smell of their soil Leaves me And my sky is over my head only
A soldier waved our bus into a detour. We didn’t pass by Parliament Square that day. I’d hoped to go to a pastry shop, coins I saved for a week. Southern winds, sun shrouded in dirty clouds, red tongues of dust on windowpanes. There’d been a hanging on the square.
Sixteen years later I eat lunch at home, afternoon light, the gloss of olive oil on lettuce leaves. On the radio, whistle and boom of mortar shells, one landing on a soccer field, forty boys dead. And I’m trying to remember who wrote "to die in mid-sentence was to triumph over the dark.”
When I was seven I spent days hiding among the bean stalks. I heard my name called and felt indifferent to being wanted, unassured that the world I lived in would undo my foolish malcontent.
It’s not as dramatic now. I look out the window, people in their rooms, reading or thinking, or watching TV as if the world had stopped calling, as if we had emerged from the whirlpool of its demands with a wild mixture cowardice and courage to say unto others "I wish you did not exist."
On the day of the hanging, my father drove home, a poster of the President on the hood of his car. He tried to explain. Over and over he said “survive.”
Once I believed forgetfulness was a gift from the gods, not an erosion of the soul. Now I know enough to say this has happened before, and even crueler things— the bombardment of the ghetto as the republic ate its lunch in the park, held its toddlers, napped on lawns, smoke-sharp air fevered with the hiss of a flute.
Don’t ask. I too find myself listening to gurus who abhor coherence, who tell us language is a bucket of slop and we can only grunt and squeal. I wonder if they say this to silence the wretched who have found no words, who wave their torn limbs at us.
This too has happened before: My brother and I snuck to the car the night of the hangings. We intended to tear the President’s poster. But something held us, not a policeman’s shadow or the neighborhood spy. Not even my father who hours before had gone to sleep.
Apologies to All the People in Lebanon (June Jordan)
Dedicated to the 60,000 Palestinian men, women, and children who lived in Lebanon from 1948-1983.
I didn’t know and nobody told me and what could I do or say, anyway?
They said you shot the London Ambassador and when that wasn’t true they said so what They said you shelled their northern villages and when U.N. forces reported that was not true because your side of the cease-fire was holding since more than a year before they said so what They said they wanted simply to carve a 25 mile buffer zone and then they ravaged your water supplies your electricity your hospitals your schools your highways and byways all the way north to Beirut because they said this was their quest for peace They blew up your homes and demolished the grocery stores and blocked the Red Cross and took away doctors to jail and they cluster-bombed girls and boys whose bodies swelled purple and black into twice the original size and tore the buttocks from a four month old baby and then they said this was brilliant military accomplishment and this was done they said in the name of self-defense they said that is the noblest concept of mankind isn’t that obvious? They said something about never again and then they made close to one million human beings homeless in less than three weeks and they killed or maimed 40,000 of your men and your women and your children
But I didn’t know and nobody told me and what could I do or say, anyway?
They said they were victims. They said you were Arabs. They called your apartments and gardens guerrilla strongholds. They called the screaming devastation that they created the rubble. Then they told you to leave, didn’t they?
Didn’t you read the leaflets that they dropped from their hotshot fighter jets? They told you to go. One hundred and thirty-five thousand Palestinians in Beirut and why didn’t you take the hint? Go! There was the Mediterranean: You could walk into the water and stay there. What was the problem?
I didn’t know and nobody told me and what could I do or say, anyway?
Yes, I did know it was the money I earned as a poet that paid for the bombs and the planes and the tanks that they used to massacre your family
But I am not an evil person The people of my country aren’t so bad
You can expect but so much from those of us who have to pay taxes and watch American TV
The rules break like a thermometer, quicksilver spills across the charted systems, we’re out in a country that has no language no laws, we’re chasing the raven and the wren through gorges unexplored since dawn whatever we do together is pure invention the maps they gave us were out of date by years … we’re driving through the desert wondering if the water will hold out the hallucinations turn to simple villages the music on the radio comes clear - neither Rosenkavalier nor Gotterdammerung but a woman’s voice singing old songs with new words, with a quiet bass, a flute plucked and fingered by women outside the law.
It was your vision of the pilot confirmed my vision of you: you said, He keeps on steering headlong into the waves, on purpose while we crouched in the open hatchway vomiting into plastic bags for three hours between St. Pierre and Miquelon. I never felt closer to you. In the close cabin where the honeymoon couples huddled in each other’s laps and arms I put my hand on your thigh to comfort both of us, your hand came over mine, we stayed that way, suffering together in our bodies, as if all suffering were physical, we touched so in the presence of strangers who knew nothing and cared less vomiting their private pain as if all suffering were physical.
Every peak is a crater. This is the law of volcanoes, making them eternally and visibly female. No height without depth, without a burning core, though our straw soles shred on the hardened lava. I want to travel with you to every sacred mountain smoking within like the sibyl stooped over his tripod, I want to reach for your hand as we scale the path, to feel your arteries glowing in my clasp, never failing to note the small, jewel-like flower unfamiliar to us, nameless till we rename her, that clings to the slowly altering rock - that detail outside ourselves that brings us to ourselves, was here before us, knew we would come, and sees beyond us.
Sleeping, turning in turn like planets rotating in their midnight meadow: a touch is enough to let us know we’re not alone in the universe, even in sleep: the dream-ghosts of two worlds walking their ghost-towns, almost address each other. I’ve wakened to your muttered words spoken light- or dark-years away as if my own voice had spoken. But we have different voices, even in sleep, and our bodies, so alike, are yet so different and the past echoing through our bloodstreams is freighted with different language, different meanings - though in any chronicle of the world we share it could be written with new meaning we were two lovers of one gender, we were two women of one generation.
Where the neighbourhood wives, After a morning at the wet market, Sit facing the breeze To trade snatches of gossip About leery shopkeepers, The local louts, (Like that fella who’s always drilling his walls – Gives me migraine) And that mad woman Who throws things from her window. With careful put-downs they Fashion boasts, about stubborn sons, Lazy daughters, who by some miracle or mistake Always score well in class. When words falter, Gestures take over: pursed lips, rolling eyes, Animated hands adorned by bangles of Gold, jade, steel, string.
And children orbit around them Laugh without diction – Their games of tag a reassurance That there has been no hothousing Of who is unclean, unwashed, Untouchable. When they break out Into some kindergarten song, One almost believes in a generation Cleansed of skin-deep suspicions, And free from the superstitions of the tongue –
And old folks sit like sages To deploy chess pieces with ancient strategies. In a corner, a caged bird bursts With the song of its master’s pride And wrinkled women breathe, through Tai-chi-tuned windpipes, the operatic melody of the air…
All a wanton fantasy.
Eyes reveal a meeting-point For loners and loiterers: A sense of things reduced- Conversations that trickle through Brief noddings at lift landings, Teenage rhetoric scrawled, in liquid paper, On the stone-table chessboard, (Where the king used to sit) The grandiose house-selling dreams of residents Compacted in anonymous letterboxes; As an afterthought, an old man pees Under a public phone.
A place to be avoided, this, How in its vastness it devours hours. Little wonder then, Why residents rush through void decks Back to the cramped comforts of home As if in fear of what such open space might do To cosy minds.
This was once a love poem, before its haunches thickened, its breath grew short, before it found itself sitting, perplexed and a little embarrassed, on the fender of a parked car, while many people passed by without turning their heads.
It remembers itself dressing as if for a great engagement. It remembers choosing these shoes, this scarf or tie.
Once, it drank beer for breakfast, drifted its feet in a river side by side with the feet of another.
Once it pretended shyness, then grew truly shy, dropping its head so the hair would fall forward, so the eyes would not be seen.
IT spoke with passion of history, of art. It was lovely then, this poem. Under its chin, no fold of skin softened. Behind the knees, no pad of yellow fat. What it knew in the morning it still believed at nightfall. An unconjured confidence lifted its eyebrows, its cheeks.
The longing has not diminished. Still it understands. It is time to consider a cat, the cultivation of African violets or flowering cactus.
Yes, it decides: Many miniature cacti, in blue and red painted pots. When it finds itself disquieted by the pure and unfamiliar silence of its new life, it will touch them—one, then another— with a single finger outstretched like a tiny flame.
Be careful of words, even the miraculous ones. For the miraculous we do our best, sometimes they swarm like insects and leave not a sting but a kiss. They can be as good as fingers. They can be as trusty as the rock you stick your bottom on. But they can be both daisies and bruises. Yet I am in love with words. They are doves falling out of the ceiling. They are six holy oranges sitting in my lap. They are the trees, the legs of summer, and the sun, its passionate face. Yet often they fail me. I have so much I want to say, so many stories, images, proverbs, etc. But the words aren’t good enough, the wrong ones kiss me. Sometimes I fly like an eagle but with the wings of a wren. But I try to take care and be gentle to them. Words and eggs must be handled with care. Once broken they are impossible things to repair.
A Poem Some People Will Have to Understand(Amiri Baraka)
Dull unwashed windows of eyes and buildings of industry. What industry do I practice? A slick colored boy, 12 miles from his home. I practice no industry. I am no longer a credit to my race. I read a little, scratch against silence slow spring afternoons. I thought, before, some years ago that I’d come to the end of my life. Watercolor ego. Without the preciseness a violent man could propose. But the wheel, and the wheels, won’t let us alone. All the fantasy and justice, and dry charcoal winters All the pitifully intelligent citizens I’ve forced myself to love.
We have awaited the coming of a natural phenomenon. Mystics and romantics, knowledgeable workers of the land.
But none has come. (Repeat) but none has come.
Will the machinegunners please step forward?
My apologies for missing a post yesterday. I’ve been going through a rough time.
What is a shadow? It is the self without a face or a name, all outline and no feature, the self on the verge of being erased. It is the incidental child of matter and light. Look how it spreads itself on the ground, weary but weightless, unable to leave a trace.
Another one of those days when we’re standing by the side of a road with our mothers, sweating in our Sunday dresses, waiting for the bus home. You stand in the puddle of your mother’s shadow, twisting your body so your own vanishes inside the darkness. I’m invisible, you shout, counting the three shadows left, then blowing me a stiff kiss. It’s cooler here too.
Is it possible for this not to be a story of disappearance?
2. After Hours
Your voice from a phone booth on a sidewalk, in the rain, outside a diner with an unreadable sign. Your voice speaking in code, coming to me in bits and pieces, syllable by syllable. Your voice doubled, echoing, bouncing off a stained glass dome, traveling through a dark tunnel where a train is about to pass. The lilt in your voice betrays you as you pretend to sell me potato peelers and non-stick frying pans. Your voice from another time zone, competing with the waves of the sea. In a letter with no return address, your voice cracks jokes and says “my feet hurt” in another language. Your voice in the tired words on my computer screen, hidden somewhere in the identical towns of postcards. Your voices like a shadow on a road.
When we were children, you didn’t care for words, you only filled pages with wide vertical lines. Beyond the page, the bite marks at the tip of your pencil, bare knees, a scrawny cat sleeping at your feet. We lived in the city and I thought you drew lampposts, telephone lines, the long, rusty rods scattered in construction sites. Your voice insisting, no, no, these are trees.
4. No Rain
I walk one block and pass a series of testaments to failure—the skeleton of a building, a half-built bridge already breaking down. On the dusty metal fence hangs a sign that promises a highway.
You were in love, you wanted out of a city that screamed abandonment.
5. Another Routine
A new mayor, a new name for this road. The man selling sweet corn at the corner makes it a point to recite all the names to every customer in need of directions. I don’t listen to him as I make my way to this place, known to me now only as the road where you last stood. I stare at its slender body, following the shape of a tree that has fallen down, beaten endlessly by the weight of buses and trucks.
6. Inside the Dark
I fall into a puddle on my way to catch a bus, and unlike a dog, I can’t sit around and lick my wounds, I have to walk away like nothing has happened. The face of Jesus looms on a billboard, but where is the comfort that can be brought? Let me watch the blind men by the terminal massage commuters for a fee, let me listen to karaoke music and stare at stall selling cheap umbrellas, let me stand under the shadow of a lamppost as is my habit, though it is evening, the weather is cool , and you are gone. If I keep still enough inside this shadow, it is as if I am not here. If I keep still enough, there is no proof you are not here with me.
Don’t tap your chopsticks against your bowl. Don’t throw your teacup against the wall in anger. Don’t suck on your long black braid and weep. Don’t tarry around the big red sign that says “danger!” All the tempests will render still; seas will calm, horses will retreat, voices to surrender. That you have this way and not that, that your skin is yellow, not white, not black, that you were born not a boychild but a girl, that this world will be forever puce-pink are just as well. Remember, the survivor is not the strongest or most clever; merely, the survivor is almost always the youngest. And you shall have to relinguish that title before long.
People talk about theater or drama in reference to everyday experience but when did the curtains ever part to reveal you sitting there next to me in our old BMW while crossing the bridge over the Stör on a clear winter afternoon with a sky like blue glass scratched as you said from all the various jet trails you turning your head to the right looking off towards the western horizon across all those flat green acres of northern Germany me glancing over at you without you being aware of it seeing you sitting there content in the warm sunlight coming through the windshield absorbed in your own personal thoughts of god knows what & then the attendant cascade of psyche-encompassing emotions that suddenly engulfed me as I caught a glimpse of the tiny set of wrinkles at the corner of your eye immediately remembering how seriously you took your fortieth & most recent birthday then me being catapulted into that crushing orbit of conceptual thinking dealing with time & age & destiny & what it means to be alive & what it means to be in love & how we all deal with getting old & the passing of time & the laying aside of certain dreams & desires in favor of various creature comforts & a predictable easiness into which we all are slipping deeper & deeper from day to day ultimately precluding even the remotest possibility of any manifestation of true happiness or satisfaction & then us coming down off of the bridge & onto the autobahn me putting the gas pedal calmly & purposely to the floor leaving what I had been thinking about behind us like the clouds of blue exhaust as we accelerated in a mechanical rush of pure power & motion the tachometer & the speedometer both rising steadily the car hurtling forward on the smooth asphalt temporarily eclipsing all thoughts of time & the passing thereof & cleanly bringing to an end the inner spectacle of today’s particular drama in a manner so thorough & final that it’s bordering on the surgical.
After we flew across the country we got in bed, laid our bodies intricately together, like maps laid face to face, East to West, my San Francisco against your New York, your Fire Island against my Sonoma, my New Orleans deep in your Texas, your Idaho bright on my Great Lakes, my Kansas burning against your Kansas, your Eastern Standard Time pressing into my Pacific Time, my Mountain Time beating against your Central Time, your sun rising swiftly from the right my sun rising swiftly from the left your moon rising slowly from the left my moon rising slowly from the right until all four bodies of the sky burn above us, sealing us together, all our cities twin cities, all our states united, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Yes, I want to talk at length about Men- struation. Or my period. Or the rag as you so lovingly put it. All right then.
I’d like to mention my rag time.
Gelatinous. Steamy and lovely to the light to look at like a good glass of burgundy. Suddenly I’m an artist each month. The star inside this like a ruby. Fascinating bits of sticky I-don’t-know-what-stuff. The afterbirth without the birth. The gobs of strawberry jam. Membrane stretchy like saliva in your hand.
It’s important you feel its slickness, understand the texture isn’t bloody at all. That you don’t gush between the legs. Rather, it unravels itself like string from some deep center— like a Russian subatomic submarine, or better, like a mad Karlov cackling behind beakers and blooping spirals. Still with me?
Oh I know, darling, I’m indulging, but indulge me if you please. I find the subject charming.
In fact, I’d like to dab my fingers in my inkwell and write a poem across the wall. "A Poem of Womanhood" Now wouldn’t that be something?
Words writ in blood. But no, not blood at all, I told you. If blood is thicker than water, then menstruation is thicker than brother- hood. And the way
it metamorphosizes! Dazzles. Changing daily like starlight. From the first transparent drop of light to the fifth day chocolate paste.
I haven’t mentioned smell. Think Persian rug. But thicker. Think cello. But richer. A sweet exotic snuff from an ancient prehistoric center. Dark, distinct, and excellently female.
Speaking of marvels, I am alive together with you, when I might have been alive with anyone under the sun, when I might have been Abelard’s woman or the whore of a Renaissance pope or a peasant wife with not enough food and not enough love, with my children dead of the plague. I might have slept in an alcove next to the man with the golden nose, who poked it into the business of stars, or sewn a starry flag for a general with wooden teeth. I might have been the exemplary Pocahontas or a woman without a name weeping in Master’s bed for my husband, exchanged for a mule, my daughter, lost in a drunken bet. I might have been stretched on a totem pole to appease a vindictive god or left, a useless girl-child, to die on a cliff. I like to think I might have been Mary Shelley in love with a wrong-headed angel, or Mary’s friend. I might have been you. This poem is endless, the odds against us are endless, our chances of being alive together statistically nonexistent; still we have made it, alive in a time when rationalists in square hats and hatless Jehovah’s Witnesses agree it is almost over, alive with our lively children who—but for endless ifs— might have missed out on being alive together with marvels and follies and longings and lies and wishes and error and humor and mercy and journeys and voices and faces and colors and summers and mornings and knowledge and tears and chance.
Go home and write a page tonight. And let that page come out of you— Then, it will be true.
I wonder if it’s that simple? I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem. I went to school there, then Durham, then here to this college on the hill above Harlem. I am the only colored student in my class. The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem, through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas, Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y, the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator up to my room, sit down, and write this page:
It’s not easy to know what is true for you or me at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I’m what I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you: hear you, hear me—we two—you, me, talk on this page. (I hear New York, too.) Me—who? Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love. I like to work, read, learn, and understand life. I like a pipe for a Christmas present, or records—Bessie, bop, or Bach. I guess being colored doesn’t make me not like the same things other folks like who are other races. So will my page be colored that I write?
Being me, it will not be white. But it will be a part of you, instructor. You are white— yet a part of me, as I am a part of you. That’s American. Sometimes perhaps you don’t want to be a part of me. Nor do I often want to be a part of you. But we are, that’s true! As I learn from you, I guess you learn from me— although you’re older—and white— and somewhat more free.