It’s true, I wholly missed New York in the 80s.
So you wouldn’t remember the cars, he said,
with the dashboard signs NO RADIO, aimed at
deterring thieves from breaking
the windows. O if you love me at all, God, mark
a sign like that on my own self, NOTHING
HERE OF WORTH—I’m tired of having it
come as a surprise. Dutifully I have steeled
to be slighted, and have I been slighted? I have.
Just once I want to hold my child
without considering Europe at the war’s end,
the women given armfuls of bluebells
to scatter from their windows, but five years
beating carpets strengthened their arms too much
for the task, and the violet bundles sprayed
on the city like yet another attack.
This decomposing urn,
the ad assures, will turn you, when
you die, into a tree.
Might as well just turn into a tree while you’re living.
And what are they
doing, the hospital, asking again
about any self-
harm and then packing the baby into your arms,
saying avoid the dismal
and also remember it’s normal
for the baby to lose weight
in the first days, then regain it, you can check by stepping
onto a home scale holding
the baby, then you just subtract
your body from the scene.
It took a box of crullers, handed from person to person around
the workroom, to make me understand I can’t feel joy. I don’t
want sugar on my fingers. Increasingly, I barely experience eating.
It feels as though I am taking a meal and placing it in a coat
pocket. I heard about the rank and murderous city where
the nuns convened to sneak away the infants slated for offing.
They trained a Saint Bernard to bark whenever one of them cried,
to mask the sound. At my side, I keep an adopted blankness,
oafish as a search dog, ever reliable in its great drowning out
of pain. Nobody has to break the news to me that in these waking
years, we each live only a fraction of what’s within us. Nobody
has to ask me what my unlived self is doing with its seasons.
It roams the world envisioning all day being killed
like a sow on the slaughter floor, indignant at the artless
worker wiping his hands on his coveralls instead of on a towel.
It boards hot air balloons, is careless with
the central flame, imagines itself unable to brake and careening
toward the Red Sea, as it has heard that people are
forever recollected and defined by the rooms in which we die,
reduced to the rooms in which we die, and it does not wish to end up
recollected or defined. It does not wish to be reduced, insists
the Red Sea is not a room, and so it has found a way around the way
in which we die. If only I could live that part and not this one.
If only I could shy from the new world’s tortured ostentations,
not know candy wheels and concrete, tomes by resolute declinists,
same old he said, no one else said, same stooge on the doorstep unrepentant,
having thrashed his path through the world and pronounced it
happenstance, how we are trapped in our bodies
just as, in Dante, the Heathens are trapped in Hell, having
been born in a time of no savior and so not standing a chance.