Monthly Archives: April 2012

April 30, 2012 Mercy on Broadway

Dear readers,

I’m indulging in a reprint today, still in our spring mood. This re-run is from 5 years ago, though, so I think it may be forgiven. Hell, it may be forgotten! I can still remember from where it was sent, the day that I discovered it, a spring day not unlike this one. I don’t think the poem mentions spring at all, but it sounds like spring to me, with its greens and its busy sidewalks and its bold thump of outdoor music. Mark Doty was born in Tennessee in 1953, and has won all kinds of writing awards. He currently teaches at Rutgers. About one of his memoirs his fellow poet and memoirist Louise Erdrich has written, “It is illuminated from within by gorgeous wonder,” and that’s just how I feel about Mercy on Broadway. It’s a little longer than most MV entries, but worth a read through to really get a hang of his insistent, accomplished rhythm in this piece.

Had to think of this one last weekend when I was in Chinatown, not far from Broadway, watching a bucketful of turtles swim in circles. They were toy turtles, though–battery operated. I thought, “Me want buy turtle?” and, “I think these turtles are going to make it.” -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

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April 23, 2012 A Little Madness in the Spring

A reader of the last edition’s poem (sorry for the one-week delay) commented anonymously that what Mary Oliver was sensing in herself, in the guise of the bear, was something wild and uncontrollable, a madness that manifests itself particularly in the early spring. The commenter–who will not be named–also noted that genocide remembrance days are in April, and that every historical genocide has an April touchstone date. So I’m sure no attentive reader will possibly guess who the commenter, whose identity is withheld to protect the guilty, was.

The commenter did not, however, justify the poem’s existence, and Mary Oliver herself has not chimed in, so since it’s been 2 weeks I can assume that we, as a group, hereby express our disdain and distaste for last edition’s poem, and label it a piece of poo. Bear poo.

And lest you think that’s crazy, well, I have an excuse, because we all get a little madness in the spring. Just like good ol’ Emily D., who here suggests that a little goes a long way. Stay sane,

-ed.

A LITTLE MADNESS IN THE SPRING

A little Madness in the Spring
Is wholesome even for the King,
But God be with the Clown –
Who ponders this tremendous scene –
This whole Experiment of Green –
As if it were his own!

c. 1875

April 9, 2012 Spring

Dear readers:
Is this the pathetic fallacy? Or is it its opposite? Is it simple anthropomorphism, or something more sinister? I don’t like it. Mary Oliver (b. 1935), defend yourself! -ed.
 
 
 
SPRING
Somewhere
a black bear
has just risen from sleep
and is staring

down the mountain.
All night
in the brisk and shallow restlessness
of early spring

I think of her,
her four black fists
flicking the gravel,
her tongue

like a red fire
touching the grass,
the cold water.
There is only one question:

how to love this world.
I think of her
rising
like a black and leafy ledge

to sharpen her claws against
the silence
of the trees.
Whatever else

my life is
with its poems
and its music
and its glass cities,

it is also this dazzling darkness
coming
down the mountain,
breathing and tasting;

all day I think of her—
her white teeth,
her wordlessness,
her perfect love.

-1992

April 2, 2012 III

Readers,
there’s not much I can say about Adrienne Rich that you won’t learn from last week’s obit in the NYTimes. She had a prolific and lauded career, writing nearly up until her death at the age of 82. She got married in 1953, had a family, but later came out in the early 1970’s, a process that was political and personal for her. It radicalized her life and her work. Writers that have criticized her poetry have used words like “strident” or “polemical,” but her first collection to address lesbian desire, 1977’s “Twenty-one Love Poems,” could not have been less so. Number III in the series is perfect for our springtime section. If you need advice on how to read an Adrienne Rich poem, just follow the advice built into her nominal anagram: “Read in, enrich.” -ed.
III
Since we’re not young, weeks have to do time
for years of missing each other. Yet only this odd warp
in time tells me we’re not young.
Did I ever walk the morning streets at twenty,
my limbs streaming with a purer joy?
did I lean from any window over the city
listening for the future
as I listened here with nerves tuned for your ring?
And you, you move toward me with the same tempo.
Your eyes are everlasting, the green spark
of the blue-eyed grass of early summer,
the green-blue wild cress washed by the spring.
At twenty, yes: we thought we’d live forever.
At forty-five, I want to know even our limits.
I touch you knowing we weren’t born tomorrow,
and somehow, each of us will help the other live,
and somewhere, each of us must help the other die.