We were living somewhere on Amsterdam,
in a flat with or without running water,
I can’t remember,
I’m not even sure it was Amsterdam,
I was still a boy at heart.
I loved you more than I loved the life
already lived but without you.
Now we would never be the same again.
You taught school over in Harlem,
crossing the line daily to set in motion
your perfect nose and lips
and let everyone who wished to, drool
seeing your perfect thirty-year-old body
I first saw when you were seventeen,
I twenty-one, when we danced the whole night
until the Downbeat Cabaret closed and we walked
from Third and Yesler to Second Avenue
to catch the bus back to the houseboat.
Waves lapping all night as though we still danced,
the only white people in the joint,
though you are Black
Irish, Danish, Polish gypsy and I
Scots, Welsh, Irish, with some Cherokee.
From Seattle to San Francisco,
then Morningside Heights,
I loved you like you had always loved
Manhattan, telling how your first time there
at age fourteen your father searched
for you, called Missing Persons, worried
all the time you were rapt as you watched
the Radio City Rockettes all the way through
and then again, and how happy he was
and you were
dancing through the hotel door,
rushing to his arms.
I loved the Lowe Library and going to meet
Stanley Kunitz in his classroom,
where I dropped a name, Theodore Roethke,
or two, Louise Bogan,
and the poet of "Open the Gates"
and "Careless Love" told the others I seemed
to have escaped the city of the burning cloud,
smiling then shifting to the business
at hand that was all he had planned
for opening day. I can’t recall
the name of the place where I drank
thereafter with the smooth olive-skinned woman
with whom I was passing as man and wife.
You liked your job, I liked mine, we went to movies
when we had the money, and to Coney Island
weekends. We walked the Brooklyn Bridge
to see Hart Crane’s haven where he wrote his poem.
I looked in vain for the refrigerator
Thomas Wolfe wrote on top of
standing up, page after page amassing the weight
to fill a trunk four times for Maxwell Perkins.
Kunitz advised, Stop wasting your time, young souls,
like living World War Two over
when you lucky to be were born so late
Rather burn with love than die
with those who fell everywhere but here.
Recall now the fate of the twin towers,
and the three thousand dead
one autumnal day.
Play it again on TV! I cry
upending the grog in Dublin,
passing my hat to buy another,
this time for the house
since the house provides an endless cache . . .
In Dublin there is sorrow. Is it for
dead babies or for their kinsman, James Joyce,
estranged for life once Nora said Yes!
Let us go to sea, to Trieste, Paris,
bear children while you write your books,
first and last . . . Ah, Nora Barnacle!
How Jim loved to rut between your thighs,
put his lips on you,
plunge his cock there when your lips
were wet and wanting him so . . .
How I loved you in Manhattan,
how you loved me there,
though I confess your faith in me faded
and could only be rekindled
by leaving the city, going upcountry,
where I followed.
Amherst was poison to our spirits
How could we have known? Why risk tears
with a surfeit of laughter?
Now I want to go back. Fly with me there.
I want, I want, I want. My lifelong love
claims all my breath. And gives me hers.
No, reader, I was not who you thought I was.
I read only with a piano
and her chording between caesuras.
Come to Montana, see elk, bear, and moose
cross the highway up or down
Lolo Pass. Idaho is not far.
There are cowboys drinking in all the bars.
There is no love lost between them and dark-
skinned men who go by the name of Blackfeet.
I met one who married for life
and death a red-haired beauty
and pissed off every pale bastard within
and outside Missoula. He wrote like he rode
his buckskin, like a wind to cool hell.
One night we recited to one another
our Martin Luther King, Jr., poems
among the hubbub. He’s been dead ten years.
He wrote one of America’s best novels.
A movie in the works, his widow
is set for the rest of her days. Nothing
soothes the ache in her shattered heart.
Dear reader, we may meet in Chicago,
said to be what New York once was,
when we lived so well yet penniless,
surging with jealousy to keep our wits
sharpened. You came after me with a knife
in Amherst, and in Manhattan
we were not happy, but never so angry
we did not make love upside down, endlessly.
(for KL & EA)
(26 October–26 November 2010)