Brooklyn, First Spring


Mia Yun

Originally published in The Evergreen Review Issue 116 in 2008.

After the bleak first winter in Brooklyn
Exiled from Manhattan
in the backyard of my row-house,
the size of a tiny Village studio
dogwood blooms
like an overnight sensation
a profusion of intense satin pink
coy and bold, modest and dazzling
like a young geisha
in a ravishing kimono

Late this year, says my neighbor
who has seen it bloom for seventeen springs
A tinge of envy in his melancholy voice
he has crocuses and daffodils
and tulips from Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Already bloomed and withered
As I covet a neighbor's magnolia,
He must covet my dogwood

I do not tell him
about the fiery glow it casts on my wooden floor
nor about the elation I feel
when I dip my bare feet as though it was a river
when I have my morning coffee
watching birds whose names I do not know
come and sing with frivolous generosity
and flit away with indifference and such levity

I gaze up at the haughty glory in the thin morning sunlight
all blooms, leafless yet
A disquieting, erotic and despairing perfection

Unable to write
I rearrange the books yet again
and rehang the pictures on the wall
and walk to The Narrows bay
with a book:
La Dame Aux Camelias by Dumas fils
deserted streets of spring trees
babysitters' chatter in Spanish in someone's backyard
a meringue playing on a radio
laughter and shouts of their young charges
The only people I pass
a Muslim woman and her twin girls
lovely in skinny yellow pants and gray blouses
brown-eyed, and in iris-blue head scarves
the girls skip along to the rhythm of an exotic song in their heads

From the 69th Street pier,
where Mexican men in baseball caps fish
practicing the Zen of waiting
I could almost reach out
across the wide rippling body of water
and touch Manhattan
the silvery, floating island of bottomless desire
once I so feared to leave
On whose shore I buried all regrets and envy
when I left
for whom I pine a little less each day

After the last round of the Mister Softee ice-cream truck
over treetops and rooftops with black-tarred chimneys
the sky mimics a Florentine sky in Renaissance paintings
a baby blue canvas feathered with soft orange clouds
One by one, then, neighbors return
to the street of United Nations:
a Turk, a Chinese, an Irish, a Pole, a Russian, and an Italian
the misty street with elongated shadows
shot through with the last rays of the sun
shared with alley cats, an occasional possum and a raccoon

At night in bed
with windows open to the backyard
where the dogwood tree
keeps to itself
its desire a muted flame
I listen
to the foghorns from the bay
the indiscreet, fat and mournful sounds
a trumpet played in low keys
Alone and still lost
but not lonely

Over a fortnight or so into May
The dogwood petals fade a little each day
bruised by night mists
bleached by the spring sun

Books I read pile up on the desk
Celine, Auden, Dickens, Woolf and Turgenev
long turned to dust
And I remain yet uninspired

One morning a cold spring rain comes
to douse the last flame of the dogwood
All afternoon I watch
the papery petals fall and scatter
in a lazy drift of wet confetti

Sweeping the million soggy petals
my paralyzed and frozen mind thaws a little
a tiny stir of excitement and anticipation
maybe I will be able to write again
more than five years after 9/11
when for a moment I thought it might be my last day
Crawling blindly
through the warm gray dust of the pulverized tower
that fell thickly blotting out the sun

The memory and terror of the day
still haunts and invades my dreams
But I now possess the joy I never knew before
And at last some semblance of peace
in my first spring in Brooklyn
a modest paradise of the exiled