Photographs by Joy Garnett
West Twenty Third Street
The crosstown bus chuffing west doesn’t stop for us, so on we move,
following it thru the snow-softened streets, quiet as shrouds.
We pass a stooped lady with peeling skin who wears a felt pulldown hat
that shades her eyes just like Veronica Lake’s or Lauren Bacall’s
swooping bangs shade theirs. Oh,
the treasures she must have carried! The riches
she must have embraced!
No matter that she picks thru trash under Madison Square’s spindly trees,
spooky and bare,
the park emptied by the snow & the night, its crack-slatted benches
mocking the absence I mark now.
No matter that the world turns without her, that the world spins from her,
we know that she’s stood on Potter’s Field under a shower of gold.
A knot of Jehovah’s Witnesses scurry by, bewildered both by us and,
finally, by the world,
though their eyes shine & they hold aloft their issues of AWAKE,
wield them, actually, austere shields against the snow & the bag lady &
the empty park & the Flatiron Bldg & the freezing whores who stroll
the parking lot across from the Chase Bank &, of course, against us,
who wisely wish them no harm,
only the paradise they crave.
I touch your hand, ghost.
I touch it to say
that this is our paradise:
the Mikassa showroom & the N train station & the year-round Santa Claus
store over on 5th & the Dunkin Donuts & the discount dress shop & the Chinese
screen emporium & the Lighthouse with its blind tappers and husky guide dogs
& the wrought iron of the Chelsea Hotel & even the shit-spattered church,
its stairs sprinkled with lounging junkies,
these are the gates to heaven!
There exists no valley, no mountain, no sky as magisterial as
the Chrysler Building, nothing is Creation as profound as
Nothing, spirit, as beautiful as yr nappy hair, yr little breasts, the freckles
you always resented: all gone now except on this paper that someday too
will vanish. Ours is a poetry
of imperfection, yet we know that beauty is the expansion of meaning,
a cascade like the buildings before us spilling west to the Hudson.
And what can be said of you, ghost? but that you were a woman,
that you spent your one life, that you struggled & that you died.
Except what can be said is everything in between.
The world is filled with famous people, with daring people, with flawed
people, with gorgeous people, with broken people: few are out tonight.
& now I’m leaning against the door of Joyce’s bar, sweating in the snow,
& I still hear you whispering to me, “Live, live, live the life you know”.