From the bus, the plane, the car
that dragged me to some captivity—
to home—to school or work—
I would watch the lit-up windows.
Scattered over farmland or tucked
in the curves of overpasses, those kitchens,
those living rooms would be warm,
I would drink tea,
and in those rooms
I would learn a very important secret.
In the spring, when most of the snow had melted,
the 7th-grade girls played dodge-ball
in the field behind the school.
“And if you died?” his social worker asked.
“If I died, you’d close the folder.”
Everyone was late to the OCD clinic
because of the sign outside: Please Wipe Your Feet.
43RD STREET HAIKU
In the gutter outside Nathan’s,
a dead knish.
I have imagined myself
the lover of multitudes
and the hero of millions
as I lie in my room, listening
to the radiator hiss.
THE SNOW QUEEN
As if in a dream I saw her,
but I was awake, watching the storm
through panes cleared by my breath,
through the swarming snow, her eyes
brighter than moonlight
and the smile of her blue lips.
Pomegranate juice runs down your chin.
We spit the seeds into the grass.
I lick your fingers.
Wars, disease, insane gunmen,
lightning, earthquakes, accidents—
so many ways that lives are lost,
and only one of you!
THE CAT WOMAN
There is only one way to enter her.
I nuzzle her behind the ears, hold her sleek waist,
as she tickles my chin and nipples
with her tail.
When you’re early for your bus,
it pulls in late.
When you’re two minutes late,
it left on time.
Like all of us—crippled and blessed
by the human condition.
I almost don’t want to find them, lost friends and relatives
with their news of who’s been sick or died,
of what’s unrecognizable now,
reminders of what might have been.
The curse of the talented:
to always ask Was I too nice to be a genius?
purple, yellow, red.
sheets and shirts
lifeless on the line.
A man bends with reverence
into the jaws of his car.
The wind ripples
the grass, the way a cat’s fur
A dog chases
the train. And if
he catches it?
of dark houses.
A hawk glides
across the moon.
Mice, look out!
I touch the stairs outside to see if there’s ice.
You fear the driving and doubt the radio’s report
of freezing surfaces only in the north.
So I’m outside in the dark, in the rain, in pajamas,
touching the stairs and finding them wet.
Your tongue inside your mouth
from the strawberry you ate.
Someone wrote to me:
“I am tying up my letters from you
with a ribbon, so my grandchildren
will find them that way.”
This is not an exact quotation,
since I didn’t keep her letter.
pass in the night.
In the autumn they crunch.
Thank you for your letter.
You might have phoned instead,
but I couldn’t keep a phone call in my pocket
and take it out to read
now and then.
I realized that material possessions
and worldly success were meaningless
when I was a failure and had nothing,
but I questioned the meaning of failure
and decided I was okay.
Watch the sky closely: those clouds aren’t moving;
it’s we who are moving, our island is drifting . . .
Manhattan . . . America . . . Earth . . . all of us
and everything we’ve packed to bring with us . . .
slowly drifting . . . where currents and wind,
chance and time are taking us . . .
If you have holes in some of your socks,
you can never go into a shoe store on impulse.
ON THE D TRAIN
The latch of a man’s attaché case slips open.
The secrets we strain to look at
are only books, papers, a pocket tissues pack.
Please stop doing that
or you’ll trigger one of my episodes.
You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar,
but shit works even better.
The striped shadows of the venetian blinds
come now from the sun, not the street light.
Why did the alarm clock ring
before I could forget last night?
I have nowhere to stay in this city, no money to pay for a room.
There are so many beds, though, where I could share my warmth,
and it wouldn’t cost the occupant a cent.
Politicians parade down Fifth Avenue,
passing stores where only those
who own the politicians
can buy the useless merchandise.
Go elect yourselves!
I watch in our tangle
the curve of your shoulder
and one eye watches me.
They sit across from each other,
eating their doughnuts in silence.
When their eyes meet, they are embarrassed
and don’t know why.
You’ve flown to warm countries
from the frozen streets, my heart
in your grasp. You float in warm waters
while I walk the white fields, aspirations
buried till the spring.
Watching a wolf in the woods
in the Bronx, watching me
in the zoo in the Bronx.
It’s easy to live in benign captivity,
sleeping, chewing the meat they throw
as we both know.
I believe one should be good
to the little people, because some day
you’re going to have to walk all over them.
—Wait, is that the right thing to say?
An Israeli told me:
“Americans have a party, they drink and get depressed.
We dance and drink and eat and have a good time.”
When I worked at the New Jersey Historical Society,
I got a call from the manager of a historic house.
He needed information, he said, about handicap access.
His concern turned out to be: “I don’t want
their wheelchairs bumping into the furniture.”
People need to declare “Here I am” or “I’m important.”
So their stultifying conversation includes:
“I did this” and “I know this” or “I hate those.”
Who cares about your dental problems?
Or your granddaughter’s accomplishments?
Just shut up, and I may think you’re okay!
The director told N. in the high school
Gilbert & Sullivan Society chorus:
“Just be pretty and don’t sing.”
ONLY ON THE WEST SIDE
In an elevator on the Upper West Side of New York City,
a grandmother explains that her charge, in a stroller,
who seems to be singing without words “Frère Jacques,”
is singing Mahler’s First Symphony.
—Look at that – there’s no sign saying it’s the Port Authority bus station.
If you’re a stranger to the city, how do you know that’s what it is?
—If you’re a stranger to the city, you’re fucked anyway.
When you check into a motel
with your actual wife,
does the clerk make you feel cheap?
Plants that flourished
while dinosaurs walked the Earth
are now coal to fuel the monstrous factories.
We darken the skies
the way the asteroids’ dust darkened the skies
and killed the dinosaurs.
If wishes were knishes, we’d all have heartburn.
Remember gag gifts?
I once bought someone a small box labeled Pussy Stretcher.
Inside was a little cloth stretcher you supposedly could use
to carry your cat to the vet’s.
I thought, Why can’t I have a job thinking up things like that!
Let my people glow!
—How are things going?
—I have my bad days, and I have my bad days.
A moist, cold, overcast seaside afternoon.
Falling asleep to the sound of pans
rattling in the kitchen.
Give up, give up the day.
It will be there again.
Everyone should have the memory
of at least one time with an angel,
lying in a warm bed, plump feathers
brushing against your skin.
Student clarinet in its tattered case. I couldn’t resist—
I opened the tiny can named cork grease.
Instantly, I remembered how exciting that smell was,
inviting me to a new world,
if I could learn the instrument.
SOUNDTRACK OF FAILURE
You were at home on a Saturday night
and you heard the TV–your parents
were watching Lawrence Welk.
I don’t like how, when you peel the little papers
from a bandage and drop them over the wastebasket,
they take flight and land somewhere else.