One hundred degrees today, Manhattan is a clay oven – through the café window I watch women rushing passed in summer attire, bare shoulders and legs glistening, the warm breeze lingering under their skirts – inside, a cheap steak and dry Malbec, an expensive cigar and a leather couch, Jack Daniels neat, wood paneling, jazz trio in a corner next to the bar – piano man oblivious to all except the long-legged waitress, the black angel smiling, the cool air-conditioned midnight.
greasy brown bag
Listening to music in Washington Square Park with Dan,
wishing I had my congas.
Walking neighborhood streets with Dave Kirschenbaum
looking for a cup of coffee at 3 a.m., the city that
never sleeps, sound asleep, at least in that part of town.
The Statue of Liberty, a long way down
from the restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center.
Our half-million voices for peace march down Broadway,
but Bush still bombed Iraq.
Outside the Nuyorican Poets Cafe discussing the gig--
they liked us all right, but they liked themselves better.
At a poetry reading I mention Weeds--
the New York poets agree
they'd be afraid to read there,
On Second St. the sidewalk to the Bowery
was a constellation of night shreds
ground glistening under our feet.
The saxophone petitions, the piano sighs
at the Tin Palace have yet to reach
the edge of the stars now. Our whispers
lost words, your name goes with them.
We sleep in a film noir
economy hotel room, flashing
lights on billboard outside our
third floor window –
steady flow of 1 am traffic,
the garbage is emptied
at the curb below – I wait
for the ghost of 2 am muted trumpet, you
My almost sleeping mind-landscape
is a park bench in Central Park, I’m smoking
a cigar, in my right ear a tenor sax downwind
plays the Sonny Rollins songbook
with the energy of 1959 – to my left in the distance
a statue of William Shakespeare – the elms
are healthy, the sun warm, the air
heavy, the breeze steady.
First Time in NYC
I went straight to the Village
where I encountered
store after store festooned with buttons
and bumper stickers advocating
peace, justice and free love
as well as causes I'd never heard of
street vendor trays of bootled tapes
so good he played samples on a
boombox--this was before the internet
Cafe Le Mama
the smallest hotel room I'd ever seen
a million used books on a mile of shelving
at the Strand
Gotham Book Mart where my literary forebears
zombie drunks wandering Grand Central Station
waiting 2 a.m. for my train to go home
I walked North. Instinct said to get as far away
from the burning & collapse as I could.
And when the radios said trains
were leaving I walked there too.
The train went North, full to the doors, no tickets
no conductor, just fleeing passengers
until the train was empty again, and we
were home, safe, watching the news.
[This poem is part of an arts project, the Fifth Annual Chicago Calling Arts Festival. The poem will be performed at the "Waiting 4 the Bus" series at Cafe Ballou, 939 N. Western Ave., Chicago, IL on October 4, 2010, at 7PM.]