I ran into Henry today, he owns the
Essex Street Market building.
Smells like old cigars, matted dreads
and stale construction. A hot city day,
breathing sidewalk and tar.
Henry told me his plan to screw
the vulture capitalists
was to put a high-rise
housing on top of the market,
power it with solar panels —
“let those hotel bastards
look at us then!”
He said, “You don’t kill
the goose that laid the golden
egg cuz then you got no
He said, “I remember when
I was young
and I wanted to be rich,
so I went out
and got rich.
I remember the first time I kissed
a girl and the time after that
and the time after that and
it was all in my head,
Bare walls and rolling down hills, climbing
back to the top for a tumble. Holding 4th of July sparklers,
ghosts in the goblin. A picture of tension I never
had is recognized in pumpkins of memories. My mother holds
her breath, my father exhales too loudly.
These are her people.
There are valves that release
and close off blood that ties us together in times of
inconvenience, insecurity, and unreason. I am inside the currents
of her joy and surrender. Her desperate need to
empower me shines on the surface.
He mows the lawn to break away fallen leaves, to leave the
women to their kitchen talk. He is outnumbered in his
old age. A woman is missing, I am standing next to her footprints
in the home she never abandoned. We sneak cigarettes in the
carport. She hands me the lighter, asks me to ash
like a lady, we laugh. I wish her ghosts away from her
neverhome, haunted with the joy and unreason of
her people, my people.
Amin is behind the counter,
gold teeth and long curly hair, a rockstar
mustache. Latin boys walk in, Amin says
hey, Frankie, mi amigo, como estas?
Frankie says, bien, bien, turkey hero. Amin makes
it for him. Cop walks in, says Ma’assalama,
Amin says Ma’assalama. The cop asks for some
more lessons on Mohammed, Amin explains
and Habib makes all the coffees. Old black man
walks in, says, what up, homes. Amin says,
hey, what up Holmes, ham sandwich tonight?
The man says, nah, Yankees lost. I can’t eat
tonight. Amin understands. Crazy schizo named
Lucky walks in, selling a radio from 1985. Ten bucks,
works and everything, he says. Amin tells him,
no man, thanks, we got radio here in Happiness.
Ticket on a windshield, Ohio on Stanton Street. My name
in the newspaper, wandering thoughts passing by like the guy
with the geri curl and his arm around his tapered-legged pants
girlfriend, now or two decades ago. Sixteen years ago,
there were riots here, carving out names scratched into
film, now ten days till my birthday, I am reminded:
I wasn’t there. Trying to keep up in green track pants I
don’t remember liking, I want to bring cupcakes to school,
except school isn’t a building anymore. A musty, sweet
nap on a couch in the back room is summer vacation, I owe
everyone everything. An ex-boyfriend skirts down Essex.
To be expected, I got banned from dating on Ludlow centuries ago.
Patching words into sentences into stories
we used to tell to make each other mad, now laughed
away with a wave of a wand of passed time. Tour buses
travel time up the Bowery, the farmland,
sprouting roses of brushed steel
and thumping bass, following the thread of electricity,
following frequencies of New York’s disease:
nostalgia. Things are always better in a
different time before me, and things will never
be better or worse than they are now. Things, we, them,
all living in the present tense. An undercurrent
plays connect-the-dots, watching recognition
light up the footlights of our
collective memory. We hold hands with strangers,
know they save our souls now; without resumes
or reason for trusting, we do so presently, here in
this bar this club this park this sidewalk this street this
vanity. We save each other from the men who would
otherwise pimp out our farms, our Bowerys in a
heartbeat. We hold hands with the angry and the
hurt, the hopeless and the apathetic, slashing
the tires of crusaders in their multinational
man-made machines of war. We are snickering in the dark
corners of what New York used to be, still is
in our present tense: corrupt and unclean and free
from the ordinary, still in some parts.
Wait for me. I will be here now, forever, without
knowing or willing. I will stand locking hands
with strangers: I will always choose to make
the better never end.
**poet’s note: y’all must read “Forever” by Pete Hamill.
A glass of vinegar and 2 drops
with a paper funnel on top
will kill swarms
in the humid rotten.
Preferring to crawl frantic
instead of fly, blind to
the aperture of escape.
One on the edge of the cupboard
hasn’t moved in twenty minutes.
Do fruit flies nap?
Would you nap if you only
lived ten days?
I knew once I got up
to get another cigarette,
he’d jump in.
Two or three fight
on the edge of the funnel
and fall. Dead.
Drag on a cigarette
as they sink.
I have dreams later
that survivors are pissed
and swarm me to death.
A park scene in the diaspora. A guy holds his dog up to dance
for a baby, and she thinks he’s waving goodbye. A wrinkle with
gray dreads howls with laughter at all of them.
If I make myself hold the pen long enough, I will remember to write
without thinking. Memory will feed me when I am too poor to try, my love
will sit cradled in my brain, waiting to be hatched.
I moved here not to quit dreaming on rooftops but to make dreams on
pavement. To fashion a bouquet of stolen thoughts so I can sleep at
I keep holding this pen up not for genius but for piece
of mind. Look at the birds with the airlock brakes. Launching pad? I
never realized I had balance till I stood up and went on out.
Missing you. Wishing you could be the pieces of my fractured brain in
the crosswalk, but then, age and spirit aren’t the same thing; sorbet
and ice cream aren’t, either.
I don’t want love on a diamond — okay, maybe served on a silver
platter, sure — but I do want two feet someday, arms and cheeks to
They ask me why I write about New York so much. We know each other
really well, so it’s easy. NYU film students, bottled blonde, bottled
love, bottled up.
Afternoon naps aren’t nearly as satisfying as they used to be,
now that I can’t sleep at night without wondering if I’ll ever finish what I
started. You call me to complete the conversation. Start a new one.
Choosing to bake cupcakes and chasing pigeons are good
ideas. Two coffees in recycled coffee sleeves and kiss
goodbye while walking. Cooperation.