Desire & Misfortune
Once, because I was seventeen & because everything
I thought I understood about love
proved in one moment to be untrue,
I punched the brick wall outside a punk club.
All the small bones of my fist surprised me right then
with their fragility. Because I was young & addicted
to adrenaline, it took two weeks
before the hand was x-rayed, re-broken & set
so that, even today, when I look at both hands I can note
slight imperfections. This is how we come to know
history. No need to tell me
that dumb adolescent—all desire & misfortune—
no longer exists, nor does the Ritz, nor does that New York.
A quarter century now, how can I enumerate the changes?
Better off to point out what remains, Bierket,
Bleecker Bob’s, the voltaic scent of the subways,
the sirens rising from First Avenue that kept me
awake last night, after the phone calls—five, seven,
more—from someone who insisted I should visit
because she wanted to fuck me. She’d been drinking.
Her voice, husky beautiful. When the phone finally stopped
ringing, I couldn’t help think of the possible—
there’s so much lust & longing who wouldn’t want
to believe it’s love. There’s so much loneliness, too.
Out my window, the Chrysler Building distant & lit up.
Once a woman said she liked my hands &
I thought she meant how they felt against her skin
when I brushed her cheek or cupped her small left breast
but realized, as a police cruiser wailed northward
to some crime of passion or remorse, she liked
only that they were my hands & that they knew
something of hurt as well as something of her.
How difficult to appreciate winter’s grey-eyed honesty—
wind listing off all the failings we’d never admit.
It whistles between office towers, &
me with nothing but a wool jacket & this scarf
which was a gift—simple, store-bought.
Nothing special. It’s the story of my life; odds are, yours, too.
The city prepares its snow plows for the worst.
Others walk by, muffled against the particular bitterness
that is this weather—long coats & knit hats,
one with a pom-pom waving like a small child’s hand.
Spring in the New Century
I hadn’t heard any yelling or sobbing from next door, but still
a slamming rattled the walls of my apartment
so that it seemed the very building shook with rage. All my life
I’ve sought to avoid such Angels of Anger, but there they are, drinking
daiquiris with the Angels Romance & Creativity, sharing bawdy stories
starring the hapless us. Some reggae crooner sings her laments,
barely audible— her broken heart. On the Avenue
good Catholics carry palm fronds while teen girls prep for Easter
or Hugh Hefner wearing street vendor bunny ears—
another coin flip of the sacred & profane, & me
hedging my bets again: there are no Angels of the Safety Net
or the Sure Thing, not in this new century
nor in Rilke’s new century for that matter
whatever Frank Capra or Curtis Sliwa might contend.
For years someone’s yelled she loved me as if ferocity
proved something, & no cartoon devil stood on her shoulder.
Out my apartment door I heard what may have been the sound
of giant wings rubbed against the hallway’s narrow walls
& saw beneath the door a brilliance I turned away from.
Is it hope or fear that sets my body atremble?
There’s some promise of resurrection, so assures the parish of trees
congregating in their spring finery at the park
& the elderly man who wouldn’t give a vagrant a quarter
feeds chipmunks & squirrels. Later rats will emerge for the scraps.
Me? I’ll give a dollar to every bum I meet today
then buy another round of frozen drinks for those Angels
because summer’s coming with all its vicious heat.