One Tuesday I set out to walk
From Greenwich Village
100 blocks, like friends I’ve known
For years without touching,
Containing lives in cubic rooms
Piled high with clippings
And gabardine suits,
Empty bottles and full china plates.
Every step here carries its own heartbeat,
Every neighborhood a manner of speech.
I want to tell it all, but how.
The Village wears its hipster T-shirts,
Shopping in Starbucks and Baby Gap
And yearning for a smoke.
It’s restless down here,
Where money meets crumbling brick,
And it’s easy to lose sleep
With Burp Castle across the street,
NYU kids hopped up
On hops and cigarettes,
And bums howling skyward like cats in heat.
Stir crazy comes easy, even here,
Where freedom paints the blues on like punk rock jeans.
Hitting the pavement is how I get out –
An expression I hold dear –
Stepping out to crack the world
Feet prickling concrete, fingers
Rapping on sewer grates
The sidewalk leads me
Where I feel,
Senses showing where to tread
With the funnel-cake foresight
Of my geographic tongue.
On the West Side, there’s a park I know,
Green and narrow Riverside,
A sliver of trees and a path is all,
Green carpet, trim like Astroturf,
And green taste in the air
To set my tongue at ease,
Ripe fruit in the eaves of green locks,
Raw sprigs thick like giants’ hair,
To be braided in hindsight
Into jump ropes soft with dew
For the Harlem girls to twirl –
One my baby two my baby three my baby jump
Into dusk and its calm,
Wedged between wake and sleep
In the cracks between tall buildings,
Where darkness creeps,
Keeping secrets mum till morning,
When hot dog stands
And newspapermen are the rule.
Until then, there is the hush and rumble.
The city that never sleeps
Tucks itself in, and the restless ones
Scrounge in empty night stands,
Straighten their neckties, and swarm.
That evening, I set out for Chinatown,
Teeming with life: fish and man.
Pungent odor, shoulder-high boxes,
Not Uptown’s Chanel
And Chantilly lace.
Wizened Grandmother Moon,
Swaddled in stars,
Whispers thanks from her perch
Through box-slat teeth
The color of cheese,
Reminding us all
To watch her in prayer.
These are the things I remember –
Moments from a walk I took –
Now as I sit by my bedroom window
Looking out at the dog
And its frumpy-pants owner,
Now as I watch my father
Gag and struggle with his food
In the dim light of a house,
Evening walks from which are sacrosanct
In the crosshatch crosswalk moonlight
Of my mind’s small city,
Not quite New York, but still.