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.


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.



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