The air is cool. The sun is shadowing,
and heat congeals, the tall, straight-up buildings.
On days that are hot or at least not cool
the city is like Eden after God
sent the sinners packing through the exit
gate, angels with their wide wings folded up
like accordions that were really harps.
Even in late winter, music comes out
the doors of Nod City, New York, heaven
after hell, the steps you step into now
leather shod and proud of your redemption.
The meadows of Eden were not fertile.
There are so many corpses left to rot
to sow the naked earth. In Nod City,
at least in one borough, there are paupers
filling a graveyard that is all their own.
Potter’s Field. I thought I was dying then,
and when we reached New York I knew I was.
I was reading the man who worked the line
until he could flee and find poetry . . .
Manhattan, though, was nothing like Detroit.
My deadly rhythms continued. I drank.
I did not whore now. I could fuck with she
whose love was always, her heart holding mine . . .
I gloried in the imagination,
immortal as long as I lived in there,
where the boy from nowhere became the man
from here. But not for long to hold such ground . . .
That day was cold. Cathleen remained happy.
She loved the kids who had nothing but school
to keep them alive. She said, Please don’t drink
today. I want to see the leaves turning,
memorize those I see for the first time . . .
Up through Connecticut into the New
England scape, Massachustts where we stayed.
And what of the cold-water walk-up flat
on Amsterdam? O’Hara drove down from
Amherst, where we stayed in his apartment.
He could see more with one eye in New York
than I with two. Cathleen said we could stay
in this small town and maybe I could live
longer and that way postpone the onset
of her widowhood. Both could live that way.
O’Hara stayed on Amsterdam. He loved
many women there, but no one so much
as Mary, African American
short-haired darling, he called her. He loved her
because she loved him and meant to show him
what life after Vietnam could be like
with her. We thought they might even marry.
We stayed as long in Amherst as we could
She loved the Irish cops on the corners.
They reminded Cathleen of her father.
O I wish he could see me now! He would
be so proud of you and me, that we came
this far . . . We decided to stay. Amherst
was a good town to dry out completely
this brute concealed under my skin to drink
the dregs of gutters in the great city.
I would miss Morningside Heights. She would miss
her little dark angels. I had to stop,
she declared, or I would most likely die
while she was teaching or making her way
to wait up there for my pitiful cry
of laughter mixed with sorrow and come down
to help me, guide me up the climbing stairs.
I dreaded telling the man twice the age
of my teacher, who believed poetry
kept him alive as did his loving wife
who painted, and worked with him their garden
until dark. He was a teacher, Cathleen
was a teacher, I a drunken poet . . .
(9 May 2011)
copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander