Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Without Keys

He tells me maybe I shouldn’t read that.
It’s because I have been “oohing” and “aahing”
and letting out all these sighs.

He laughs from his couch.
I shift my pillows.

It’s just, I tell him, it’s just amazing.
I just want to do it.

Of course you do, he tells me.
He wants to do it too.

I mean, who wouldn’t? Sell off everything you own
and circumnavigate the globe without stepping foot
on an airplane?
I tell him about what I learn about freight cargo travel.

I sigh again, and sip my wine glass.
I look up at the pictures on the wall,
picture of our travels so far.

I think about when we were younger,
I was just out of college and settling into full time work.
It was already frightening me so we bought bikes.
We were going to quit our jobs and ride them
from Pittsburgh to California. We even told the sales guy that.
He nodded and laughed a little.

We fantasized about coming up on the Rockies, early in the morning,
the dew still on the grass, our legs aching from last night’s ride. The sun rising.
I had the whole scene.

“Imagine it,” I told him on cigarette breaks.
But it took years for me to quit and by then the bikes were stolen.

Instead we saw the Rockies by car nearly a decade later.
And we say Europe from a landing strip, not chugging
along at 25 miles an hour coming into port
after nothing but the wide open mouth of the ocean.
Don’t get me wrong, it was all beautiful.

Eventually I get back to reading, and I hear him fall asleep on the couch.
His breath steady and rhythmic like the rocking of a boat alone at sea.
There is opera on the classic station, and for a change, I like it.
I wonder how hard it will be to sublet the apartment.
And if my mother or his mother will take the cats?

I picture us, standing on the docks at Red Hook,
two backpacks holding everything we own,
a ticket clutched in our hands, fluttering in the breeze up the estuary.
Our pockets for the first time, ever
without house keys.

Monday, April 26, 2010

A Love Poem Set at 14th Street, Union Square

It was just 14th street,
just Union Square,
practically vacant
in the drizzling rain.

You see, since we got back from Paris
we’ve spending more time in the city.
That’s what people who live in New York City
but not in Manhattan call Manhattan. The City.
Isn’t that funny?
As if Brooklyn were Another City
and had succeeded in seceding.

The Q train went over the bridge and we stood on the train,
hand in hand, watching all that water below us. We took a chance on the Q train.
We didn’t watch the Brooklyn Bridge. We stood facing the other way,
My gloves necessary in rainy April.

We didn’t have anywhere to go or anything to do, it was one of those days.
Just a couple extra bucks and curiosity about what we could find at Strand.
The hope for a couple beers at the Grassroot. That was all. It was that kind of Sunday.

Before we left we got Halal food from the truck
and sat on the stairs cause they were the only part that was dry.
Before we were done, some guy joined us. We ate together. Us and this guy.

And later on, waiting for the D train,
I would ask you if you ever wanted a handcar to pass suddenly
squeak down the subway tracks, two old men dressed in overalls
arguing about getting lost. Wouldn’t that be funny?
You nod and smile and kiss the top of my head.
I forgot to tell you that in Australia they call them Kalamazoos.

But before all this we got off the Q train in 14th street
and it was drizzling again. There were no chess players.
No market. No vendors with pictures of Obama.
There weren’t even any skateboarders.
The men and women with the Free Palestine sign weren’t there either.
And they were always there. Freeing Palestine was a full time job.

You asked, “Do you feel like the city is vacant? Empty?
Like it belongs to just us?”
And I tell you Yes, with a smile.
But I don’t tell you that also
sometimes when we are shoulder to shoulder with people
on the corner of Broadway and 14th street
and one of his gets elbowed or hit with a handbag
and we can smell their breath and overhear their pointless
conversation and when we count how many times someone
says “like” into their cell phone,
that those times, too,
even during those times,
smashed shoulder to shoulder
with the worry that their won’t be any seats
at the bar,
even then,
it can feel like it’s just us.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Pick-pocketed by the the Alchemist

I didn’t go inside Nicholas Flamel’s house
when we finally found it down Rue Montmorency.
We were exhausted.
It was after the Pere Lachaise cemetery. We had been walking all day
down cobblestone avenues of littered with graves.

But we leaned against the other building to take pictures,
which honestly don’t do it justice.
It’s from the 1400’s, understand?
It’s just been sitting there for ages, you see.
Weathering harsh winters and blistering summers.
Rainstorms, vandals, the endless chatter of Frenchmen.

But I also didn’t go in because it scared me.
It looked fancy and we just wanted a place to sit down, have some wine
before we figured out what to do about food.

Right there I lost the map, leaning against that wall,
it slipped out of the back pocket of my jeans,
as if I was pick-pocketed by the alchemist, himself.

We wandered off, and it wasn’t until much later that we knew it was gone.

“It’s just a map,” I said. “We can get another one.”
But we both knew that wasn’t true.
It wasn’t just a map. It was an archeological treasure,
ripped already from repeated folding, the paper gone soft like parchment
and numbered in wet ink so we could find all those old ghosts.

#17 – Hemmingway’s first apartment
#5 – L’Hotel – Oscar Wilde’s death,
and so on, you see. It charted our every day.

The man at the cafĂ© didn’t speak English but I went back in there anyway
to see if I left it on the counter.
We retraced our steps in exhausted silence.

And we found it back at Flamel’s place,
laying on the floor, taunting us.
French men and women stepped around it.
All hope was restored.
This time, you put it in your pocket, with a nod.

Flamel, that old codger, with his empty grave
and his death-less life.
Watch your pockets.
He could be anywhere, you know.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Paris, second time around

I found my old journal, from my first trip to Paris
when I was just 16.
It’s strange the things memory changes.

I look at my younger handwriting,
the large swooping loops of the L,
the fat hanging ass of the Y.

I read about how I could have gone to the Concierge,
to see the room they kept Marie Antoinette in before
they tilted back that long Austrian neck for the last time
and shouted Off With Her Head.

But instead I went shopping.
In fact that seemed to have been all that I did.

I came home from that trip on April 2nd.
I left for my second trip to Paris on April 2nd.
Sixteen years later.

This time, I didn’t do much shopping.
But I didn’t see the room they kept her in either.
Maybe I’m saving that for the third trip.
I’m cobbling France together in my mind
in snippets and pieces, in sixteen year chunks.

I’ll go back in sixteen more years,
when I’m 48 and then again at 64
and finally at 80 I’ll see the room they held her in.

At the end of that journal, of that first trip far from home,
I told myself Japan would be next.
It wasn’t. College and heartbreak and moving and marriage was next.
But I’ll get there,
sometime between 32 and death.

Monday, April 19, 2010


It was nice to be back in the Grassroot.
We hadn’t been there in awhile,
not since before Paris
and the cafes, and the little dishes of peanuts.

It was just after five on a Sunday afternoon,
a day of walking the city behind us,
an evening of home cooked curry and a movie ahead of us.

I told you I was sorry for being distracted
and for mistaking other people’s joy for what I wanted.

I told you that I won’t do that anymore. That I will recognize
the good in my own life, the way it arches away from me
and comes back around again, like a sunrise or the way a good poem should.

I promise to not ruin it, to not to squeeze it to tight
demand things from it, shake it so hard in my fist
till it shatters and I cry about all the blood.

I tell you I just get distracted sometimes,
like a goldfish with no memory or a crow with something shiny.
You laugh.
But I mean it and in those times I think that my joy is empty joy
or that maybe I’m doing this whole life all wrong.

I tell you maybe if I had two lives, I could have it all.
You give me a side smile.

“But not anymore. You aren’t going to do that anymore,” you say with a nod.
You lift your drink to your mouth.
“Not any more,” I answer, staring out the door
to the flashing neon lights in the tattoo parlor across the street.
It doesn’t look like April outside. It looks like September.
But then again, those two are the same, aren’t they?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


They are different in every city.
In Paris the gypsy women sit as if in prayer
their hand locked, their backs bent, a ragged Buddha,
the bowl placed a foot away from them right in the flow
of traffic so you have to step around it.

Or if you leave money, you have to be careful,
the bowl is tiny. You must lean down close to them,
to get the little euro coins to land in it with a loud clink.

They have signs. But not like the signs in America.
They do not ask for beer. Or for a ticket out of New York City.
They simply say, J’ai faim.
On the Champs Elysees a gypsy girl rubs her belly
which she has pushed out. She tells me in French she is pregnant
and homeless. She begs for money.
Another girl up the block has the same story.
I tell her I don’t speak French and move along.

I live in cities. I have always lived in cities.
But those are the women,
the men, carry dogs. Neatly groomed puppies that romp
around the sewer caps at the Pont Neuf.
It is clever. If you do not want to give to them,
surely you wouldn’t let a puppy starve.
I wonder aloud where they get these dogs.

It is different in every city. Some have stories,
some are stoic, some beg, some entertain, some threaten
and frighten.

But then we rounded the corner and there he was.
He had no bowl. He had no sign.
He had no story.
He sat on the sidewalk, away from the tourist sections.
He had his back against the car.
His knees tucked in.
He had only two hands.

And they clung to the 6 year old boy in his lap
as if to stop them both from spinning off the very earth.

You say to me, “That was a child.”
and I nod because I have no more words.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Lost in the Pantheon

They called it God’s eye,
but really it was just the center of the dome
in the Pantheon. And from it, they hung a wire
and the pendulum started to sway.

He was afraid of blood
so he studied physics
and he proved back in 1851 that the earth rotated,
that it turned her back each night on the fixed sun,
like a jealous lover.
I stood there watching that gold ball
swing back and forth and back and forth, so slowly at times,
like gravity wasn’t something it had to worry about.

I thought to myself how amazing it must have been back then,
back when Science was unstoppable
when religious fervor had died down, for just a moment
and we all stopped arguing over ancient stories
and martyred men. We collectively wiped the blood from our hands
and craned our necks to the sky to watch the stars
wink on and off,
to watch the earth groan and roll in the heavens like
a wooden top in slow motion. We were citizens of the heavens
and we sought answers
without fear but with hope and desire,
what used to be the devil’s tools.

I watched it go back and forth
and wanted to touch it
before you showed up and asked me where I had been.
You thought I had wandered off,
and you said, “Let’s go down to the crypt and find Rousseau”
and we did.