Monthly Archives: April 2007

Monday’s Verse 4-16-07

So I also sent “Mercy on Broadway” to a colleague here at school, who
said, “I was having a totally crappy day–and that poem was amazing!
Totally changed my outlook, at least temporarily.” As Doty said, maybe
someday somebody would read his poem and walk on Broadway.. anyway,
that’s about the best evaluation we can give in some ways.

Last in our FOG phalanx is Grace Paley, born in the Bronx in the
1920’s. Never graduated college. Big political activist. This is
another one of those conversationally-toned poems that makes but
subtle use of what we usually recognize as the tools of the poet’s
trade–yet enough to set it apart from prose. What’s the effect to
you?

-ed.

THIS LIFE

My friend tells me
a man in my house jumped off the roof
the roof is the eighth floor of this building
the roof door was locked  how did he manage?
his girlfriend had said  goodbye I’m leaving
he was 22
his mother and father were hurrying
at that very moment
from upstate to help him move out of Brooklyn
they had heard about the girl

the people who usually look up
and call  jump jump  did not see him
the life savers who creep around the back staircases
and reach the roof’s edge just in time
never got their chance  he meant it  he wanted
only one person to know

did he imagine that she would grieve
all her young life away  tell everyone
this boy I kind of lived with last year
he died on account of me

my friend was not interested  he said  you’re always
inventing stuff  what I want to know  how could he throw
his life away  how do these guys do it
just like that  and here I am fighting this
ferocious insane vindictive virus day and
night  day and night  and for what?  for only
one thing  this life  this life

-1991

Advertisements

Monday’s Verse 4-9-07

Mmriiiiiight. Well say what you will about Olds, that poem packs
impressive imagination into its few lines. Moving on, then.

Happy Easter. Today is Easter. As many of you know, I am not a
religious man. As many of you also know, I am prone to understatement.
Anyway, I had a positively lovely Easter, sitting in a café on a
rather dingy corner in the lower east side, desultorily “working” as I
stared out of the glass wall, people watching, loving the city even as
it passed me by, thinking, this is way better than church–no: this is
church.

And then I find this amazing, amazing poem by Mark Doty this evening.
Yup, longer than typical MV fare, but stick with it. It expresses much
better than I can the secular sacredness of a place, and I send it out
to all my new friends, and even to the city itself, in lieu of a big
hug.

Mark Doty is yet another friend of Galway, and I thought it funny that
this poem was published in an issue of the literary journal
PLOUGHSHARES which was edited by Yusef Komunyakaa. We are getting to
know the world, one poet at a time.

-ed.

MERCY ON BROADWAY

Saturday, Eighth and Broadway,
a dozen turtles the color of crushed mint

try for the ruby rim
of a white enamel bowl

on the sidewalk, wet jade
jewel cases climbing two

or three times the length
of their bodies toward heaven

till the slick sides of the bowl
send them sliding back into

their brothers’ bright heap
of grassy armament. The avenue’s

a high wall of what the clubs call
deep house mix: tribal rave

from the flea market across the street,
some deejay hawking forty-five-minute sides

of pure adrenalin, snarl and sputter
and staccato bass of traffic and some idling taxi,

siren wail’s high arc over it all,
blocks away, and the call and response

of kids on both sides of the avenue,
some flashing ripple of Motown sparking

the whole exhaust-shimmered tapestry
like gold thread don’t forget

the Motor City and even some devotees’
hare rama droned in for good measure

in the sheer seamless scrim
of sound this town is, so at first

I can’t make out the woman
beside me saying You want buy turtle?

I don’t want any one of this
boiling bowl of coppery citizens

longing for release—a dozen maybe,
or nothing at all. So much to want

in this city, the world’s bounty
laid out, what’s the point in owning

any one piece of it? Deep house mix:
these hip-hop kids disappearing

into huge jackets and phat jeans,
these Latin girls with altarpiece earrings

gleaming like church, homo boys
eyeing each other’s big visible auras

of self-consciousness all the way
across Broadway, vendors from Senegal

Hong Kong and Staten Island selling
incense sweatshirts peanuts

roasted in some burning sugar syrup.
What do you want right now?

What can’t the city teach you
to want? It’s body atop body here,

lovely and fragile armor dressed up
as tough, it’s so many beats there’s

something you can dance to, plan on it,
flash and hustle all up and down

this avenue. Don’t let it fool you,
grief’s going down all over

these blocks, invisible only
because indifferent and ravenous

Broadway swallows it all,
a blowsy appetite just as eager

to eat you as to let you go;
maybe you’re someone in particular

but no offense pal no one’s necessary
to the big sound of the avenue’s

tribal, acid mix.
I’m standing here bent

over this bowl of turtles—
green as Asia, sharp-edged

as lemon grass—and ruthless
as I know this street is

nowhere, nowhere to run to,
nowhere to hide this morning there’s no place

I’d rather be than smack in the thrall
of Broadway’s merciless matter

and flash, pulse and trouble. Turtle?
You want? Their future can’t be bright;

what’s one live emerald clutch-purse
in the confusion and glory

Manhattan is? Listen, I’ve seen fever
all over this town, no mercy, I’ve seen

the bodies I most adored turned to flame
and powder, my shattered darlings

a clutch of white petals lifted
on the avenue’s hot wind:

last night’s lottery tickets,
crumpled chances blown in grates

and gutters. I’m forty-one years old
and ready to get down

on my knees to a kitchen bowl
full of live green. I’m breathing here,

a new man next to me who’s beginning
to matter. It’s gonna take a miracle

sings any one of the untraceable radios
or tape decks or personal hookups to the music

of the spheres threading this fluid
and enormous crowd to make me love

someone new. I don’t think these turtles
are going to make it, but what

does that mean? Maybe a gleaming hour
on Broadway’s jewel enough.

Unthinkably green now, they’re inseparable
from the sudden constellation

of detail the avenue’s become
—this boulevard continuously radiant,

if only we could see it—live integers
of this streaming town’s

lush life. As you and I are, boy,
laughing and strolling and taking our parts

in its plain vulgar gorgeousness,
its cheap and shining aspirations.

I want what everybody wants,
that’s how I know I’m still

breathing: deep mix, rapture
and longing. Let me take your arm,

in that shiny blue jacket I love,
clear plastic pendants hung

like bijoux from its many zippers,
let me stand close to you in the way

the avenue allows, let the sun flash
on your chrome ring, let me praise

your sideburns and your black baseball cap,
signifying gestures that prove

gonna take a miracle we’re living.
I’ve been lucky; I’ve got a man

in my head who’s spirit and ash
and flecks of bone now, and a live one

whose skin is inches from mine.
I’ve been granted this reprieve,

and I’ll take whatever part
Broadway assigns me: Man on His Knees

Beside a Bowl of Turtles, Man on the Sidewalk
with His Heart in His Mouth? Let’s walk,

let’s drink this city street’s
deep mix: ashes and altitude,

scorch and glory, its human waves
of style and talk, its hundred thousand ways to say

Hey. I looked into that shiny cup
of ambulant green and I thought

Somebody’s going to live through this.
Suppose it’s you? Whatever happens to me,

to us, somebody’s going to ride out
these blasted years, somebody if I’m still lucky

years from now will read this poem and walk
on Broadway. Broadway’s no one,

and Broadway lasts. Here’s the new hat,
the silhouette of the hour. Here’s the new jewelry

everybody’s wearing, the right haircut,
the new dance, the new song, the next step,

the new way of walking, the world that’s on
everyone’s lips, the word that’s on its way:

our miracle Broadway, our hour.

-1997