Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A BEST New York Poem: Mervyn Taylor's "The Center of the World"

I have heard Mervyn Taylor read this poem three times and each time saw with my shivering essence the heartbreaking beauty of New York, more specifically, Brooklyn, that most mysterious of boroughs. Saw a New York crackling like a fire with promise and eradication. Saw a specific New York, closer than approximation, one I know, of supers and late-night MacDonalds, dying relationships, lost keys and keys lost to boozy nights. The pot that never melts, except in some mayor's false paradise. This is an amazing poem. A parade. The universe.

The Center of The World

From here I can see the world, all the people
walking down Flatbush Ave., going into stores,
waiting at the bus stop, all the latecomers rushing
into the subway cat-a-corner from my window,
across Ocean Ave. all the new immigrants in winter
wearing too much clothes, the police recruit from
Long Island under the awning of the Arab grocer.

Salaam, I can hear the crack addict, the last of
his kind disappearing between the floorboards,
arguing with the Arab chief, the one with the scar
in his left cheek next door to whom the Asians
scrape calluses from feet three times the size
of their own, giving them the designs they want:
star, crescent, half-moon, the flag of any country.

I see all four seasons pass through the park, in
winter, the lake shimmering between the trees,
in autumn the nervous leaves shaking and falling,
the sudden flood of green in spring. And summer,
oh summer, with the smoke of a hundred grills,
the smell of bar-b-q, the birthday balloon sailing
away from the crying boy, the slap of dominoes
on the picnic tables, the relentless hawk, a rat

dangling from its talons, dripping red onto the
cyclist’s jersey, the yellow paddleboats on their 
circular journey around the island that is the ducks’
breeding ground, dense, impenetrable, the raccoon
that scared us after the concert at the band shell
the night Rudder sang his calypso blues, where
a year ago Odetta made her last appearance half-
sitting under a falling moon. And the vet whose
shock of white hair stood out among the runners,
I don’t hear his sidewise shout anymore.

In the zoo the enclosure where the bears ate a boy
has a higher fence, painted with pretty pictures.
On Sundays the drummers still form their circle,
and in the evenings horns announce the arrival of
the Haitians, their sound atonal, harsh, unrelieved.
They move in concentric circles, singing not words
but a series of o’s, rising, falling, rising.

Sometimes the midnight lines at the McDonald’s are
seven registers across. Here a homeless man might sit,
nursing coffee, pretending to wait for the No. 12.
I know where it goes, out Linden, through dangerous
parts of East New York, I take it almost to the end of
the line, to a building boasting a thirteenth floor and
terraces with a great view of flights leaving Kennedy.  

I watch the Puerto Ricans on their day, the coquis on
the hatband of the older men. Fridays the Jews
stream in numbers toward the end of the park where
the big synagogue is, the cops with backs to them
blocking traffic. I see all the time accidents at this
five-way intersection, the elderly couple never
making it to a wedding, their car spun round facing
the opposite way. I catch, on Labor Day,

steel pans going down the middle of the avenue,
a girl waving a mysterious flag, the sergeant longest
on the beat saying, ahh, don’t worry ‘bout it, too long
to explain what wining is. I’ve heard relationships die
at 3 am, among the pillars in the pavilion, or at the stoplight
while a car idled. I’ve heard the prettiest rendition of
a Scott Walker song come up the fire escape and through
my window, through a long and sleepless night…

I’ve heard the shocking quarrels of people over
a parking space, over love, over nothing. I’ve
seen a boy gasp his last between the park benches
after the pop, pop turned out not to be fireworks,
the cap on his head turning red. There are times
I looked out to see not a soul, and times it seemed
a congregation had gathered under my window,
times when the heat would rise and then would not,
my guest and I sleeping in gloves.

I’ve lived through three supers, watched their sons
grow to manhood. I’ve let the woman next door
climb through my window when she’d forgotten
her keys. I’ve stepped over the nodding ghosts of
men acting like doormen in the lobby, their number
dwindling till there was one, who could hardly lift
my suitcase. I leave but always come back here, 
where I review things from this vantage point,
the confluence of people and lives after deliveries
are dropped off early in the morning by trucks
rambling through this intersection of the world.

--Mervyn Taylor, from No Back Door (Shearsman), 2010

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Sir Walter Raleigh on the hypocrisy of our times: "The Soul's Errand" (a poem)

The Soul’s Errand

By Sir Walter Raleigh

(Written by the English soldier and statesman, 1554?–1618, just before his execution)

GO, Soul, the body’s guest,
  Upon a thankless errand;
Fear not to touch the best;
  The truth shall be thy warrant:
    Go, since I needs must die,        5
    And give them all the lie.

Go tell the Court it glows
  And shines like rotten wood;
Go tell the Church it shows
  What’s good, but does no good:        10
    If Court and Church reply
    Give Court and Church the lie.

Tell Potentates they live
  Acting, but oh! their actions;
Not loved, unless they give,        15
  Nor strong but by their factions:
    If Potentates reply,
    Give Potentates the lie.

Tell men of high condition,
  That rule affairs of state,        20
Their purpose is ambition;
  Their practice only hate:
    And if they do reply,
    Then give them all the lie.…

Tell Physic of her boldness;        25
  Tell Skill it is pretension;
Tell Charity of coldness;
  Tell Law it is contention:
    And if they yield reply,
    Then give them all the lie.…        30

So when thou hast, as I
  Commanded thee, done blabbing;
Although to give the lie
  Deserves no less than stabbing:
    Yet stab at thee who will,        35
    No stab the Soul can kill.