Sunrise on Upper East New York City, 1988
New York sunrise over Harlem River. Rising so amber, so Amun-Ra against the miniature scrapers, walls of humble steel and glass, hot orange on pavement. Morning sun brilliant, across the luminous metal scarab of the Third Avenue Bridge or the Willis Avenue Bridge. I really don’t know. My first time to the Bronx, anyway.
I return to sun waking the city, dipping his pitcher into the river, white-gold crucible of dawn. Inclined in the back seat of a taxi, smells of upholstery. No cigarette ash, no paper pine. Squinting at the morning through stains of mascara from crying mostly, sleeping some. Too young to anticipate if I’ll always feel this thrown. I still don’t know what the Bronx looks like in the light. But East Side surrenders to Daybreak like she’s just waiting for him to rise. God. Like, just ready. I’m costing a boy a mess of money to send me home with this view. He’s not even frustrated. Not even mad. Careful with me like he’s known a real fight. Blond as this morning sun, streetwise eyes and a cross on a chain. Irish Catholic, his family is tight, he says. Tight. There’s a river of knife scars across his chest, it’s okay, you can touch them.
I run my fingers along the car window glass that is still morning cold. I never surrender to anybody. I save all my misguided refusals in a jar of lament. Just a cry-baby tangled in the patience of heedful men.
But not this city. Not the Upper East Side. Bold and fierce and fearless and wanting. Watch her arching backwards for the morning light, running hands along the spines of the streets. Supplicating to the sky, mirroring lustrous in the glass and limpid Harlem river. New York beckons and embraces. The city says yes.
Aphrodisia on Bleecker New York City, 1989 Aphrodisia on Bleecker Street. Shoppe in Greenwich Village. I guess it’s gone now. Like the jumbled altars of esoteric bookstores and the smell of printed paper. Aphrodisia. The world’s muffled library of wildcrafted secrets. Memory sleeps, cradled in the lap of scent. Every dream forgotten, langours in these cabinets. Wooden mantles of herbs, cloaked in brown paper and twine. Mandrake to Patchouli to Saffron. A plant to anoint a maiden. Or a plant to stop a heart. Canisters lining the walls, adorned with dried botanicals. The air rippling from the embroidered essence of clove buds, cardamom. A calliope of spices whirling behind the whispers of outdoor rain, along the pavement of the city, wanderers rushing by; forgetting or not remembering or never knowing Aphrodisia. An apothecary castle for the senses. And the oils. The soulblood of ylang ylang. The queen, Bulgarian rose, prying open cobalt bottles, jasmine, king of flowers. This table of potions, aromatic nest of liquid bouquet seeping into porous walls, Everything exudes perfume. Breathe. Like Monstro the whale breathe and I’m just a puppet of twigs losing all my ways on the crooked, village streets dancing for copper pennies with pretty marionettes. Unremembered now in this sanctuary of balsams that echo of wooden chimes and clinking tinctures. Frankincense. Dragon’s blood. Copal. Speaking the languages of resin, speaking the tongues of labdanum, syrupy tar and gilded sap. Breathe. Aphrodisia. I am only beginning to learn that everything I understand breathe is right here.
To the Boy I Wrote Stories About Juneau, Alaska. 1990’s This poem won’t even matter because you’ll die so young, tearing shadows into winters over winters, never to be sewn with the sinews of branches when the sky hangs in ribbons of cobalt and absence. I hurt for your family. I might know as my father died like so, before the first quarter month of thirty. You might know as I’d write about him in class, when you sat across from me, first and next to me, later. Your hair all burnt bark and tangles, like how tree roots knead soil and you never talked, I think I could read on one palm how many times you spoke at all with your perpetual 5 o’clock shadow and your careless handwriting and your poems about snow. I wrote stories about you in class. Since I’m a loud mouthed, know-it-all, can’t shut up waves crashing against Let me tell you a story waves crashing against It’s okay to play rough with me Makes for one hell of an undertow. That frantic sea-tongue swallow clutched in deafening foam dragging towards the fissures where quietness dwells. Or even just across the table in class. If I could crawl into that thicket of noiselessness since you would have let me if I’d been unflinching enough to ask. You’d move closer next semester, right next to me quiet like drifts in the ice of the forest, beneath the vigilance of ravens. Listening to my shape shifting, contortionist fiction as Fiction is just Memoir’s outcast cousin with the compulsive lying problem. I changed your hair, changed your eyes, changed your face, changed your age, changed the time, changed the place still, you knew it was you. All up in my secret in a room of peer reviews workshopping away on the nuances of metaphor anonymous tips in a stack of sedimentary copies. Except yours, since I already knew your handwriting from your poems about snow and you just scrawled this sounds like me and leaned back to watch me reading you reading me writing you.
Featured Image: Dusk by Bebhinn McIlroy (2000)