Friday, June 24, 2011

Bauby in Madison Square Park

It is ten o’clock in the evening,
and I have just finished reading
Bauby’s small kite of a memoir.

The winds of Madison Square Park
have been strong enough to keep the toy afloat,
and now, as its last blinked words are read, the
canvas, cross, and carefully knotted tail
fall carelessly to my feet.

As I look up, I see an art installation,
some decapitated Madonna without child,
French royalty or the American poor.

To my left the carnival lights
of a local dive are pulling in travelers
that leave with milkshakes, burgers, and
a sense of the authentic.

Perhaps more authentic, is the
elderly black man who holds the bench
beside mine like a paperweight,
a bottle cap, or a lost shoe.

He is searching through his belongings
with a flashlight that reminds
me of my grandfather, and I wonder
if he would be as curious as me,

curious why the black man has a shopping cart
and no receipts and a pregnant suitcase with
no ticket out of this New York park.

A mosquito bites my thumb and I
shoo it away, thinking about how
Bauby held on so mummified but
feeling everything. I turn again to
my homeless neighbor, wondering
how he does the same.

St George's, New York City

The stained glass of St. George’s
has all the jeweled colors of an
Amish quilt, and the wooden pews
sigh psalms as the congregation sits.

The chandeliers that hang are overgrown
hummingbird feeders, and it is not
uncommon to see the quick wings
and hovering of this New York crowd.

At the front of the church there are
two great cities of pipe organs that
rise like reclaimed civilizations on
the left and right of the altar.

In what Catholics would call the sacristy,
there is a cerulean sky with descending
stars. An epiphany hangs in the apse like
a mace, an ornament, an unmoving
pendulum for this great clock of faith.

And not to be missed, in shorts and a
blue t-shirt, I am here in my quilted
skin and woven beard, an echo of those
who have been before, fanfare for
those who will come after.

I am here, a prayer tied with my tongue,
hidden in the marrow of these ribs
that like the heavy wooden beams above me
support this broken but hopeful body.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Solving New York

For the Gershons

From the rooftop terrace of this Brooklyn apartment
you can see all of Manhattan at once.

At this distance, the geometry of the city
is elementary, a gross estimation like the
Niels Bohr model of an atom or
Empedocles and his four great elements.

It is all sharp corners and great
tables of incandescent rectangles.
It is precise, calculated, and proportionate.
It reads like a novel.

But in the foreground, caught somewhere between
this balcony and the East River, is an old water tower,
perched like a great bird on a neighboring building.

The tower is curved and unbeautiful, its conical hat and
angled legs are a more complicated mathematics,
requiring exponentials, trigonometry, and that most tasty constant π.

And even closer, I notice the people around me,
their asymptotic conversations, the slopes of their speech,
the great equations of their nods, and gestures, and hands,
and hair- the bends of their noble, lithe necks,

and I think that surely these imperfections, these unsolvable equations,
these incalculable calculi are as rooted in logic as the prismic skyline.

And while it is certainly easier to solve the one variable equation
of this city, I hope those attempting to find a greater solution consider

the equation of the tongue, the volume of community, the weight of alone,
the variable of home.


There are fireflies in DC
that blink and buzz and
amble north of Capitol Hill.

For some, they are warnings,
little Paul Reveres, insect continentals,
who have seen the British of
our child nations, next enemy.

For some they are decoration,
Christmas bulbs or slow neon
confetti used to celebrate the
warm summers of this European city.

And for some they are science,
a forgettable chemistry locked
away in the glowing abdomen
of an otherwise unimpressive bug.

but for me, they are lighthouses,
small fires in this noble city,
not to warn of the treacherous rocks ahead,
but to show us sea-tossed Americans
that among the waves, there still,
is land.

Poet in the making

For the quiet girl on the DC Metro

She is not a poet
at least not the high collared
suicidal poets of the 19th century.

She does not care for iambs
or the sweet feet of pentameter.

She is a woven girl, who
carries her pen like a
flower. Her stem spins
lines like broken-legged spiders,

and her webs are catching
the small bees of words
that buzz from the hive
of her auburn heart.

She is not a poet.
She is, instead, a windmill
a waterfall, an open field,
a soldier of fortune,
a prayer, a sieve,
a poem.


Tonight, my niece tells me,
the moon is closer than normal.

A learned seven-year-old, she attempts
to explain some elementary astrophysics,

but her oration on planetary motion
is cut short by my sister’s offer of ice cream.

And while tomorrow’s greatest astronomer
does a quick conical volume calculation

to see if her baby sister has more strawberry
swirl than she, my eyes are drawn back

to the moon and its pock-marked complexion.
It looks heavy in the helium sky, a ball,
a balloon, a plate, an egg. Also, a marshmallow,
an eye, a pregnant spider, those metaphors
with which we are less familiar:

a cup of milk, a snow crab, a blanched olive,
an uncovered knee, a hole, a bald man in prayer.

As my nieces spin and slide on their linoleum
kitchen floor, I step out into the Tennessee night.
I reach my hand into the cool mid-March breeze.
I stretch my fingers as far as they will go
knowing that tonight I am as close as I have
ever been to touching the moon and all its brightness.

And depending on the next steps of sweet Eva,
and the incredible gravity of strawberry swirl, it may be
the closest I’ll ever come.