The way forward is with a broken heart.
(With thanks to Elizabeth Bishop, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Frank Sinatra and W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan)
I was the myth you stole
from the twenty-second floor
of my apartment building
overlooking Long Island Sound and
the Orchard Beach of my childhood
growing umbrellas and empty beer bottles
in the hot brick sun,
created your own myth,
a southerner who crossed enemy lines,
converted me to your cause,
stamped me as your confederate,
punished my ass,
took me from my home of slate sidewalks
and vacant lots filled with broken glass,
treasures of mica schist and blue chicory
from the San Francisco Bay
hidden amongst redwood trees.
swam inside seaweed stalks.
You got me,
turned me into a woman,
the first to request I drive home safely,
to call when I arrived at the airport,
picked me up and dropped me off at the gate,
slowed me down,
let me feel how music
ran through your fingers,
on Sunday morning, the smell
of biscuits and bacon
heaped on a platter,
but you, who climbed ladders
and fell from trees,
were no god, declared immunity
whenever I tried to explain
my Cupid, you were never there.
It’s no use.
You have made me mortal.
Once I bought a subway token—
libraries, museums, art shows, coffee shops,
Broadway, Harlem, Yorkville, the Apollo,
Gotham Book Store, Grand Central Station,
Central Park, Bronx Botanical Gardens and Fordham Road,
Bruckner Boulevard and Hunts Point Avenue,
bargain basements of mixed lots and sizes,
they were all mine. Capezios and dreams of dancers
dark-haired and red-lipped
like a girl beginning to menstruate
warm blood on fingers and sheets,
wanting to make my own terms for everything,
walked from 42nd Street crosstown to Columbus Avenue,
to Lexington and back, visited Edgar Allan Poe’s cottage
on Kingsbridge and listened to a raven call my name,
Chinatown, Little Italy, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory,
the Village, stood beneath the Brooklyn Bridge and saw Hart Crane
dangle from a suspension cable over the East River,
went to the Cloisters and prayed, down to the Lower East Side,
brick buildings and iron gratings and the smell of urine in doorways,
Federico Garcia Lorca took my hand and showed me Harlem.
Muriel Rukeyser crushed a sheet of paper and smiled.
New York City New York City New York City.
People flashed past me and then they were gone.
the blackest coffee
wonder what am I doing here
ashes to ashes,
all good words interred
on TV reruns the same way
I remember mama
measuring scoops of Maxwell House Coffee,
pasting green trading stamps
in empty books stored beneath the blender.
Ollie to her friends, Olga, my mother
and daughter of Hungarian misfits
who talked to Mr. Kurtz over a sea
of Twinkies and Wonder Bread, a bald man
who in his grocery saved empty cheese boxes,
a foster home for morning glories on the fire escape.
Outside I commanded bees,
my garden of clover in a vacant lot,
sing tralala on a tree by a willow
spooled a golden thread,
drank honey, strained mica on rusted screens
into tin cans. Shiny dust.
It was me who broke rocks.
It was me who melted snow.
It was me who made it rain.
It was me who peed near the stonewall.
I never told anyone.
Olga dehydrated on the plane to Miami,
her first vacation, died a year after
Martin, my father, soccer player, body builder,
communist who believed each one according to his needs
and held me up to the blue sky
with the strongest hands I ever knew,
who told me when I threatened to leave college,
raised his voice for the first time ever:
over my dead body.
Martin who spoke four languages and never finished high school,
taught me the meaning of life through his death,
Olga followed along the shoreline his footsteps
smeared with translucent jelly fish and cracked shells
until she caught up with him,
here today, gone forever into negative space.
Light can be a wave or dead people.
It took years for me to understand that fact.
They left without a trace,
not a word about grandparents,
the camps, who had been spared,
the death fugue. Only a word about violets
as large as a person’s hand.
I am not one, but two generations erased.
So fly me to the moon,
a white bird with gawky legs
who nestled near the water’s lapping tide
without a clue about flight patterns,
believed that the past lies on the present
like a dead giant’s body, its weight
presses down, tectonic.
Speak to the white gardenia
tattooed in my palm,
tell me how you will always love me
better than any other man, my history,
my past that follows me everywhere
like a blind lover.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master,
keys, glasses, a misplacement that moments
of stirring around in the usual places
can remedy until I discover wherever I’ve left them,
a sense of relief that parts of myself have been reunited,
but since I’ve lost you, I feel uncompleted,
keep going over where it turned to mush,
although I know exactly where you lost me and where I lost you,
which doesn’t stop me from wanting to relive each moment
hoping to discover some place I’d overlooked,
a bureau, a table, the bed,
not wanting to forget those times
when we found each other.
Thank you for showing me how to fold my jeans.
Thank you for teaching me about music.
Thank you for making me a better person.
Thank you for healing my cauterized heart.
- Review of my poetry collection “Two Places” by Nina Serrano of Estuary Press.