Poem

from NYC Variations

Jim Carroll

I have walked these streets so often I could
forge the shadows of skyscrapers as they fall
to rest between the sculptured air of midtown.

Air-conditioned blood drips like rosaries
from glassy facades to the cosmopolitan eye

The fantasies of secretaries are washed to the streets
or trampled beneath thick heels along subway platforms

Engineers in orange helmets point out the flawlessness
of buildings which do not yet exist. My hands

Would drip with boredom or lust.   It was time
for evening in Time's Square. There the dim-witted clouds
at once unbuttoned, revealing a nasty aperture beneath
blue cables.

       ***

The thick veins on back my forearm
like the rope of an acrobat
have risen again

As a line of demarcation
between fields of battle
which vacillate easily but with some small pain
across this flux of anguish between light and dark
past and future      ash and flowering flame

       ***

In midtown again the way you stop
Casually to finger your hair
In some gray drugstore window
Across 53rd St. The Museum of Modern Art
That poverty vault

I fell right through the deep there once
I felt the light of Nolde scratch beneath my fingernails
And I found poverty once more

So much poverty     It follows me through subway cars
Poverty to die a death within one's own family
Poverty of the darkness across ice     Poverty of cataract eyes
Poverty of young men alone behind the stairway
   who practice
Alchemy inside bottle caps who know
The altruism of a last syringe.

       ***

When he was young in Harlem my father
watched the shadow of St. Anne, the mother
of Our Virgin, walking with shadowed gown
round a church rotunda, white as chalk and swept
with decals of starry blue why should I not believe him?

I cannot return. Never go back. Yet my father's word
has weight in its edges to stand straight like shields
and here I wait in the exhaust of his space and time
rolling my wrist with bandage to check the flow
of spit from the veins, the mucous music sticks
to fixtures on top these hotel dreams, parking lots
behind the Chelsea on West 22nd crowded with monolith
   lungs and dew
piles of dancing shoes . . . some guitar claws.

       ***

Here I walk with a memory of workers in midtown
returning at day's end to the safe edge of home near water

Streets abandoned to a purer grace, until the summit
of tall buildings is where the light of evening sleeps

And in the slit shadow below, blasting my way
through the taxied vapor, I finger the turbine mist

I wait on the origin of night's sounds waking. I know
that here only the blind man sings, even in rain

The notes of drenched violins rise like warped mirrors'
and the last clouds part slowly, like a cracked wheel.

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