Saturday, July 26, 2014


I am currently living and working in Middlebury, Vermont, as an Instructor in Environmental Humanities at the Middlebury School of the Environment. For my class "Understanding Place: Lake Champlain" our students are writing final papers on a place of their own choosing—preferably a place that means a lot to them—and reflecting on all the aspects of a place—geological, biological, ecological, cultural, historical, &c.—that come together to make a "sense of place." Last week my students organized an open-mic night in town, and I wrote and read the following poem in response to this assignment.

A Brooklyn scene, May 2014


east river

1843, Mother Russia, Jew
1894, Statue of Liberty
beard swaying, with suitcases
Buenos Aires, Cangallo Street
March 11, 1903, Ellis Island
tongue depressors
Rio de Janiero
187 Franklin Street, Greenpoint

George, Georgio, Jorge
1890, 1891, Buenos Aires, Jew
May 7, 1904, Ellis Island
loud voices whispering
187 Franklin Street, Greenpoint
los estados unidos, nueva york
bananas, Venezuela
1914, Bayonne
2013 86th Street, Bensonhurst
leather shoes and sandwiches

1892, Lower East Side, Jew
26th Street, Bayonne
2013 86th Street, Bensonhurst
leather shoes and sandwiches
Yiddish, people talking

1916, Bayonne, Jew
2013 86th Street, Bensonhurst
Brooklyn College

1923, New Orleans, jewelry, jewish
1367 Shore Parkway
South Brooklyn, 1950s, Jews, Italians
749 Flanders Drive, North Woodmere, Long Island
575 Oxford Road, Cedarhurst
Jones Beach, Mr. Robert Moses presiding
leaving Brooklyn
white flight—eastward to Long Island
—westward to Buffalo
—eastward to Schenectady

1983, Schenectady, who am I?
118 Stafford Lane
Mohegan Road
John Cage and Steve Reich
Woody Allen, Jerry Seinfeld
From San Francisco to Prospect Park
From California to Maine to Schenectady to Troy to Catskill
2009, 17th Street, Mannahatta
Mannahatta with flannel
Mannahatta with coffee
Mannahatta with snowfall
Mannahatta with candles
Mannahatta with people, people dancing, people angry and laughing, smoking, marching, screaming, slippery people—strangers uncaring, straphangers asleep; anonymity; silence within the noise
Mannahatta, Mannahatta

January 24, 2014, Crossing Brooklyn Ferry
I walked fifteen miles in snow, carrying my life
out of Harlem, into Williamsburg
you who will cross one week hence, I see you
you who crosses one year hence, I see you
I see the face of gentrification
I see the face of money and privilege and unknowingness
I see you face to face!
What are you to me, you boisterous borough?
you cacophony of chords struck with skateboards and sharpies
What are you, you skinny jeans? you afros? you grannies? you prayerful? you sinners?
What are you, you Gowanus? you Bed-Stuy? you Bay Ridge? you two and a half million? you nobodies?
One hundred years hence, just as I have eaten pie, you will here eat pie
Just as I have watched the windows blaze red in the ruins of a factory, you, too, will blaze red
Just as I have watched the fish burp, the women in burkas carry their children, the men without shirts, smoking weed, listening to music, smiling, so you will see them
You will see a park with white people on one side and black people on the other
You will see men on bicycles with bags hanging from forearms, taking food to unhungry people
You will see the Jewish kids playing basketball, the Muslim kids playing with remote-controlled cars, the Russian ladies waiting in line at the bank with the beavers and the Indians emblazoned in gold above the tellers' windows
You will see a bag stuck in a tree, flapping in the wind, like some kind of national flag
You will see the mice in the cupboard, the roaches on the counter, the silverfish in the bathtub
You will watch them with your binoculars. You will fear them
You will fear them like the Dutch first feared the Canarsie
they planted corn and stuck it in their walls
they walked our roads
they paved this town with clamshells—white with a little bit of purple in it—the most valuable thing in the world
Jamaica Bay was all and there and you will not see it like that today or ever again
the Dutch came
but where did the Canarsie go?
We grew food here, food for Mannahatta
the English made roads, roads to connect Dutch towns, towns to connect Canarsie roads, roads to connect the forest to the grasslands to the sea
One big meadow
Ablaze, under fire; shining, under the moon

Irish squatters and free blacks
they came; towns united, Brooklyn
from the river to the sea
from the King of England, a county, a city, a place: Brooklyn
Walt Whitman saw them coming east! and west
1890, 1900, Abraham, Joseph, Jack, George, Henrietta
Jewish people
They imagined their great-grandchildren
They imagined me!

dumpster divers
queer dancers
poetry readers
lip rings
dollar slices
herring and
Oh, sea-green beach cruiser: take me where the beards sweep the streets on Jew Parkway!
pants rolled up, cut off, just off
hairy legs, oiled chests, bikini bottoms,
fat-bottomed people amid mangoes and Mr. Softee trucks
churros, and a little Latin music; everyone has got their phones out; everyone is awkward
everyone has a white baby; it doesn't matter what race you are: you have a white baby
they grow like money
but there the baby evicted, the baby hungry, the dead baby
There the prayerful; there the sinners
There the Jamaicans; there the Pakistanis
I sleep under stars at night, guarded by an angry opossum
It is quiet on Tehama Street
the trees whistle as day turns
big bees aim for my head; crows perch on satellite television dishes
they cry out at twilight, as the Chinese characters in neon sing their goodnight song above the railroad, where the man pushes the shopping cart uphill: it's like he will never get to where he is going, and the sun will never again rise

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