All Quotes tagged The Slowdown(35)

the new grocery store sells real cheese, edging out
the plastic bodega substitute. the new neighbors

know how to feed their children, treat themselves
to oysters sometimes. other times, to brunch. finally,

some good pastrami around these parts. new cafe
on broadway. new trees in the sidewalk. everyone

can breathe a little easier. neighborhood association
throws a block party. builds a dog park right

in the middle of the baseball field. crime watch listserv
snaps photos of suspicious natives. how’d all these ghosts

get in my yard? cop on speed dial. arrange flowers
as the radio croons orders. rubber on tar,

skin on steel. an army of macbook pros guarding
its french presses. revival pioneers. meanwhile,

white college grads curse their racist neighbors,
get drunk at olneyville warehouse punk shows,

ride their bikes on the right side of the road, say west end
like a badge, while folks on the other side of cranston street

shake their heads and laugh. interrogation lamps
burning down their stoops. banks gutting their houses.

i look more like the cambodian kids against that wall
than any of my roommates. but feel safest within two miles

of an espresso machine. look around at parties and think,
fresh saplings. revival pioneers. know folks look at me

on my bike and think, ivy league. dog park. treat yourself
to a neighborhood sometimes. none of this land is mine

but our footprints are everywhere. silent battlefront
we new settlers shove into our back pockets,

lump in our collective throat as we chase a new world,
sweep the foyer, promise we’ll help clean up the mess.

Because the road to our house
is a back road, meadowlands punctuated
by gravel quarry and lumberyard,
there are unexpected travelers
some nights on our way home from work.
Once, on the lawn of the Tool

and Die Company, a swan;
the word doesn’t convey the shock
of the thing, white architecture
rippling like a pond’s rain-pocked skin,
beak lifting to hiss at my approach.
Magisterial, set down in elegant authority,

he let us know exactly how close we might come.
After a week of long rains
that filled the marsh until it poured
across the road to make in low woods
a new heaven for toads,
a snapping turtle lumbered down the center

of the asphalt like an ambulatory helmet.
His long tail dragged, blunt head jutting out
of the lapidary prehistoric sleep of shell.
We’d have lifted him from the road
but thought he might bend his long neck back
to snap. I tried herding him; he rushed,

though we didn’t think those blocky legs
could hurry— then ambled back
to the center of the road, a target
for kids who’d delight in the crush
of something slow with the look
of primeval invulnerability. He turned

the blunt spear point of his jaws,
puffing his undermouth like a bullfrog,
and snapped at your shoe,
vising a beakful of— thank God—
leather. You had to shake him loose. We left him
to his own devices, talked on the way home

of what must lead him to new marsh
or old home ground. The next day you saw,
one town over, remains of shell
in front of the little liquor store. I argued
it was too far from where we’d seen him,
too small to be his… though who could tell

what the day’s heat might have taken
from his body. For days he became a stain,
a blotch that could have been merely
oil. I did not want to believe that
was what we saw alive in the firm center
of his authority and right

to walk the center of the road,
head up like a missionary moving certainly
into the country of his hopes.
In the movies in this small town
I stopped for popcorn while you went ahead
to claim seats. When I entered the cool dark

I saw straight couples everywhere,
no single silhouette who might be you.
I walked those two aisles too small
to lose anyone and thought of a book
I read in seventh grade, "Stranger Than Science,"
in which a man simply walked away,

at a picnic, and was,
in the act of striding forward
to examine a flower, gone.
By the time the previews ended
I was nearly in tears— then realized
the head of one-half the couple in the first row

was only your leather jacket propped in the seat
that would be mine. I don’t think I remember
anything of the first half of the movie.
I don’t know what happened to the swan. I read
every week of some man’s lover showing
the first symptoms, the night sweat

or casual flu, and then the wasting begins
and the disappearance a day at a time.
I don’t know what happened to the swan;
I don’t know if the stain on the street
was our turtle or some other. I don’t know
where these things we meet and know briefly,

as well as we can or they will let us,
go. I only know that I do not want you
—you with your white and muscular wings
that rise and ripple beneath or above me,
your magnificent neck, eyes the deep mottled autumnal colors
of polished tortoise— I do not want you ever to die.

after Nazim Hikmet, for & after Rassan

At the Detroit Metro Airport
with the turtle-hours to spare
between now & my flight, there is
such a thing as the kindness
of the conveyor belt who lends me
its slow, strange mollusk foot
as I stand quiet, exhausted, having been
alone in my bed for days now, sleeping
in hotels, having spent months, now,
without seeing the faces of my family, somehow
its slow & quiet carrying of the load
reminds me of the kindness of donkeys
& this kindness returns me to myself.
It reminds me of the kindness of other things I love
like the kindness of sisters who send mail,
wherever you are, &, speaking of mail, there is
the special kindness of the mail lady
who says, 'Hi, baby' to everyone, at first
I thought it was just me, but now I know
she says 'Hi, baby' to everyone. That is kindness.
Too, there is the kindness of windows, & of dogs.
& then there was that extraordinary Sunday
back at the house, I heard a woman screaming
about how she was lonely & so lonely
she didn’t know what she’d do, maybe kill
herself, she said, over & over like a parrot
in a cage, a parrot whose human parent
only taught it that one sentence. I looked out
the window & saw her from behind, the way she flung
her arms like she was desperate & being killed
or eaten by an invisible predator, like a tiger or a lion, in the chest.
& her voice seemed fogged out with methadone, I don’t know,
something, & I walked away from the window
& sat, angry with her for screaming, & sad,
& not long after, I heard her saying,
What’d you say? What’d you say to me?
& a man’s voice, low, I could not tell if it was kind.
& she said, I’ll kill myself, I’m so lonely.
& did I tell you, yet, that it was Mother’s Day?
Flowers & mothers, flowers & mothers all day long.
& the woman saying, I’m so lonely. I could kill myself.
& then quiet. & the man’s voice saying, It’s okay.
It’s okay. I love you, it’s okay.

& this made me get up, put my face, again, to the window
to see my landlord’s nephew outside, just hugging her so, as if
it were his mother, I mean, as if he belonged to her,
& then, again, quiet, I left the window but sat
in the silence of the house, hidden by shutters, & was amazed.
When the front door of the brownstone opened up
& let the tall nephew in with his sad & cougar eyes,
handsome & tall in his Carolina-Brooklyn swagger, I heard
him start to climb the stairs above me, & my own hand
opened up my own front door,
& though it was none of my business
I asked him, Do you know that women out there?
& do you know what happened next?
He said, No. The nephew said no, he didn’t know
the woman out there. & he told me Happy Mother’s Day
as he climbed the rest of the stairs. & I can’t stop seeing them
hugging on the street, under trees, it was spring, but cold,
& sometimes in the memory his head is touching hers
& sometimes in the memory his eyes are closed,
& sometimes she is holding him
& singing to him I love you. It’s okay.
I mean to tell you that everywhere I go
I hear us singing to each other. This way. I mean to tell you
that I have witnessed such great kindness as this,
in this, my true life, you must believe me.
I mean, on a Sunday, when nobody was supposed to be
watching. Nobody at all. I saw this happen, the two
of them hugging, when nobody was supposed to be
watching, but not a secret either, public
as the street, not for glory & not for a joke,
the landlord’s nephew ready to stand there for the woman
like a brother or a sister or a husband or son,
or none of these at all, but a stranger,
a stranger, who like her, is an earthling.
Perhaps this thing I am calling kindness
is more simple than kindness, rather, recognition
of the neighbor & the blue, shared earth
& the common circumstance of being here:
what remains living of the last
two million, impossible years…

A difficult climb
to a beautiful view—
I don’t like it.
I don’t like the way
you make me go
positively Protestant
all this deferral
up to a future
only you’ve seen
the ascent always leveraged
against an alien payoff
already prescripted.
When we get there
I’ll be dead
tired too tired to view
the view the way
I wanted. I wanted
the way to be beautiful
as a stroll in the hanging
gardens of Babylon
or the wisteria-laden
lanes of the rose garden
in the Bois du Boulogne
as beautiful as a jammed
Sixth Avenue crosswalk
in midtown. I wanted
to be going nowhere
nowhere we know
not to have to breathe
so hard into a future
someone else promised.
I know
reputable studies show
the capacity
to delay
gratification
makes for a happy
person & nation
but oh
I just want
& want now
a perpetual
beautiful stroll
nowhere
I don’t want
to look back
& say ah
that was so
worth it
because even
if it was
it wasn’t.
I don’t want
to keep my head down
for miles alert
for insurgent roots
a falling branch
my legs punctured
by stinging flies
who harry the way
only to be able to say
at some notional
top however beautiful
how beautiful
—& see, no insects here
& why not lunch—
Somehow
it was just
the glorious sun
and twelve islands
inlaid in a lake
& the distant silent
powerboats.
Somehow it was a vision
of all as dust.
If I go
on pilgrimage
I want every age
to be a stage
one can look around
and say how interesting
& yes a cup of coffee
would be nice.
I’m not going anywhere
fast but where
we’re all going

He is not as young as he used to be. With a groan
he chooses a sizable canvas. He broods on it.
He wastes his time haggling about his commission
with a mean Carmelite monk from the Abruzzi,
prior, or canon, or whatnot. It is winter now.
His finger joints start cracking like the brushwood
in the fireplace. With a groan he will ground
the canvas, let it dry, ground it once more,
will scrawl his figures, impatiently, ghostlike,
on small cartoons, and set them off with white lead.
He temporizes and idles away a few weeks,
rubbing down his colors. But at long last—
Ash Wednesday has gone by, and Candlemas—
early one morning he dips his brush in burnt umber
and starts painting. This will be a gloomy picture.
How do you go about painting Doom? The conflagrations,
the vanishing islands, the lightning, the walls
and towers and pinnacles crumbling ever so slowly:
nice points of technique, problems of composition.
Destroying the world is a difficult exercise.
Hardest to paint are the sounds—for example
the temple veil being rent asunder, the beasts
roaring, and the thunderclaps. Everything, you see,
is to be rent asunder and torn to pieces,
except the canvas. And there can be no doubt
about the appointed time: by All Souls’ Day
the frantic sea in the background must be coated
over and over again with a thousand layers
of transparency, with foamy green lights,
pierced by mastheads, by ships reeling, plunging down,
by wrecks, while outside, in mid-July,
not a dog will stir on the dust-covered square.
The women have left, the servants, the disciples.
In the forlorn town only the Master remains.
He looks tired. Who would have thought that he, of all people,
would look dead tired? Ochre—everything seems ochre now,
shadowless, standing still, transfixed in a kind
of evil eternity, except the picture. It grows
and darkens slowly, absorbing shadows,
steel-blue; livid, dull violet, caput mortuum,
absorbing demons and horsemen and massacres,
until Doom is happily consummated and the artist,
for a brief moment, is, like a child, unmindfully merry,
as if his life has been spared, and in his relief
on this very night he asks his friends to a feast
and treats them to truffles, to grouse and old wine,
with the season’s first rainstorm pounding away at the shutters.

'If this were the beginning of a poem, he would have called the thing he felt inside him the silence of snow.' -Orhan Pamuk

Before the hanging cross, the girls
take turns standing at attention before
us with eyes closed or hands clasped,

headbands bright green or bangles
yellow, glints that fill the silence like
falling snow. They recite poems they

have carried in their mouths for days,
and my desire to go back, to be one
among these slender, long-haired girls

is a thistle, sharp and twisting at my
side. The words psalm, blessing, lord
rise in me like bees heavy with pollen,

and the teenager I once was unzips
herself from me, shows up, a crocus
bristling through snow. She’s back

in the old chapel where the priest
again lifts into the air the Bible,
declaims about the kingdom of God,

gifts promised only the righteous—
the girl I was, heavy and slow in her
thick glasses, knew she would never

enter heaven, never be these pretty girls
singing, arms pale and slim as the white
birch whose branches, dappled with gold,

shade the stained glass window. In Pamuk’s
novel, Snow, the headscarf girls in Eastern Turkey
hang themselves rather than go uncovered,

and still I want that certainty of conviction,
even as the self beside me pulls on her hair,
sucks long strands of it deep into her mouth—

so I gather her in my arms, shake her, tell
her to listen, that the sky will always happen,
these branches. Sometimes, it causes me

to tremble, tremble,
she sings beside these
girls who will grow into or away from their
bodies, and I know I must push the heavy

amber of her back inside me. Help me, Lord.
There are so many bodies inside this one.

When the bass drops on Bill Withers’
Better Off Dead, it’s like 7 a.m.
and I confess I’m looking
over my shoulder once or twice
just to make sure no one in Brooklyn
is peeking into my third-floor window
to see me in pajamas I haven’t washed
for three weeks before I slide
from sink to stove in one long groove
left foot first then back to the window side
with my chin up and both fists clenched
like two small sacks of stolen nickels
and I can almost hear the silver
hit the floor by the dozens
when I let loose and sway a little back
and just like that I’m a lizard grown
two new good legs on a breeze
-bent limb. I’m a grown-ass man
with a three-day wish and two days to live.
And just like that everyone
knows my heart’s broke and no one is home.
Just like that, I’m water.
Just like that, I’m the boat.
Just like that, I’m both things in the whole world
rocking. Sometimes sadness is just
what comes between the dancing. And bam!,
my mother’s dead and, bam!, my brother’s
children are laughing. Just like—ok, it’s true
I can’t pop up from my knees so quick these days
and no one ever said I could sing but
tell me my body ain’t good enough
for this. I’ll count the aches another time,
one in each ankle, the sharp spike in my back,
this mud-muscle throbbing in my going bones,
I’m missing the six biggest screws
to hold this blessed mess together. I’m wind—
rattled. The wood’s splitting. The hinges are
falling off. When the first bridge ends,
just like that, I’m a flung open door.