In the town where I grew up, it was a safe place to live.
Cradled in a valley of two rivers, hugged by the end of the Endless Mountain Range
right before those big glaciers came through and gorged out the Finger Lakes.
That’s where it sits, unmoving, unchanging
yet somehow always spiraling downward.
Big Blue decided one day that this
was no longer the center of all things beautiful,
or more importantly, prosperous
so they shut down the town
and all those zipperheads
(and anyone else with a few bucks left)
they took off on the IBM 500
swung wide around Kamikaze Curve
hit the gas on the bridge
and left us to fend for ourselves.
Fend we did and as soon as I had wings big enough to fly,
Even my own father said,
“Don’t waste your time here, kid.”
So around half a world and back up then down,
I found this here town and that’s when I knew
I’d found my home.
Not long after that I uprooted myself
in the gargantuan feat of moving from uptown to downtown
below Houston where the cabbies didn’t know
if Orchard Street was east or west.
East, I said proudly, having caught the tail end
of a picture so pretty
it would make old poets cry with relief.
No East Village broker-speak for me, no,
I was joining the hodge podge mismatched tossed salad dream
of the Lower East Side
where junkies and cons were sold and died
their ashes fertilizing some kind of
enclave of smalltownUSA
inside the deep dark city.
I used to sit out on my fire escape and watch the traffic patterns
of people on my days off.
Meandering shoppers all afternoon getting heckled
by Pakistani and Puerto Rican guys selling leather
on sale today
good price good price good price
till the schoolkids came home and played ball in the street
while their older brothers and sisters circled each other at the payphone.
Soon the calls of mothers from doors and windows
in what, thirty different languages?
Stray early dinner folk looking for something hidden behind no sign
soon replaced by the life of night
who stayed out there dancing under me until 3 4 5 6 in the morning
until the tint of the sky would hint
that it was time for it to start all over again.
It took maybe a month before my neighborhood knew me
before I could sneeze and have someone yell “bless you” from two blocks away
and soon I was whipped up in the rush of small town gossip.
You know that guy with the tattoo from the record store?
I saw him toooootally makin’ out with that girl
from the bar the other night
the one that flipped her ponytail in my face…
I blended in the blur.
Who sneezes on Ludlow Street?
Who are you to come through and drink Moby’s tea
while waiting with your trend-setting friends in–
do my eyes deceive me?–
lines that woulda been guarded velvet and not chains
if this weren’t the gritty LES
hoping some celebrity
will show up because Gawker
said they were there just last week.
Now it’s all in Vogue
en vogue to be LES
en vogue to push out the people who’ve been here 30 years.
en vogue to push out the shopkeepers who’ve lived upstairs
from their store for even only five years
because you can get more money outta the Kate Spades
than you can outta my friend Eva.
Not that I was that fond of drive-bys and dealers
but when the Dell kid is getting arrested on my corner
for buying marijuana
I gotta wonder.
No, we can’t have cars of black guys pulling over to ask directions
on the Bowery, having it look like they was selling dope to those poet kids.
Uh-uh, not now that the former flophouses
house smooth sterile steel for well-bred well-fed students.
Where will you be when they let it all go?
When some other place is the center of all things beautiful,
and more importantly, prosperous?
They’ll abandon us again, I know.
But this time my wings are grown
and I know where I will always fly home.