This New York is the same as the ones that came before. Our predecessors
each took a turn walking alone on Washington's Birthday,
their painterly counterparts left to price drawings in remote studios.
They, too, believed in ghost rivers, imagined streams pouring through caves
under the white bricks of mid-American-century Manhattan, and held hands
innocently with lovers who guided them through villages of urban parks.
This place turns on the same axis, hangs the same pictures of regulars
on the walls of its bars.
The wood-paneled bars back then boozed guys like me
and distracted them with housing and stories of songs.
Poems with shorter lines than this one and poems with longer lines
went unwritten or came scrawled on napkins in ink that was black or blue.
Winter days came with beached snowfalls and neon icicles
that cracked off too cleanly to clear the decks of Coney's boardwalk.
Choruses and verses made themselves known, carried melodies and weight.
All the cheeses and whistles, all the sharps and flats, all the old friends
and new friends and strangers gather round this dog-eared notebook
and one by one they dive in. And I suddenly want to cry.
This is the city of the unsung present, with all the underachievers and ingénues
collecting on open-ended streets, decorated with beads and slow songs
that sound like something from a celebrated past.
The publicity girls laugh happier at night than they do in the day,
their bling fingers twitching without triggering true love and
their men slopping drinks into their frowns and the pockets
of their untucked shirts. Nurses hide their frustrations in their white
trouser pockets, pools of sorrow gathering in each man's eyes.
He fumbles with his degrees. He sees. Then the trained professionals
of design and space drag their corners round the blocks and
stretch their words over armatures of long walks
on Central Park's periphery. February's slanted sunlight shadows them
all the way
just as it did when their uncles ruled the world with ideas and executions.
There is nothing old-fashioned about wanting to flee the city
every three months. Nothing noble either.
The singer tempers his voice. One of the painters mentions Brazil.
A young friend of mine had hopes for you and me, and coincidences being what they are,
we should explore the city as far as we can in the short, quiet, flawed, expensive
amount of time given to us. Meet me there at ten.