Yes, I had fun in New York.
On the subway a woman was on about broccoli,
which was good for her cataracts and she was
writing a book about it, and she was still talking as I stepped
from the nearly empty subway car to the platform,
saying, “Broccoli, then,” amused, and waggling my hand
goodbye. She went on talking as the doors closed,
correcting or amending something she had said,
some impression she had left that wasn’t right
as the train pulled off;
and I made my way up
to the street
where it was 64 degrees in January
and the huge, complicated, unlovely
intersection smelled delicious
because it was lunchtime
and not everyone has my compunctions about eating
hot dogs and pretzels from carts.
The place was swarming with strangers (to me),
healthy, alive, eating delicious-smelling pizza with 2 or 3 friends
one knee up and foot against the wall
of a bank or a fly-by-night appliance
store. I found your building
easily enough, and we stood by the window
As you know, that didn’t go so well;
but as we talked we watched
Day 90 of a 40-story building being built,
the men working singly or in clumps
random motion as it seemed
but united by some Vision, maybe God’s.
You kept binoculars to verify details;
I preferred the way the distance made all odds
even, the hammering, hoisting,
shifting, welding, moving, and smiting
all going on at once.
Brief vehemence of gesture over here while half a
heartbeat later, over there,
“Guys,” I heard someone call through the din.
“Doesn’t fucking work! D. F. W.!”
At that I tried to catch your eye but failed.
Someone completed a task and twirled
his tool to celebrate; I
saw the tiny hammer
spin. From your place I went to the
short white lengths of string had been laid
on a marked-off square of floor, which was black
and, for the most part, shiny.
Why that was beautiful, I couldn’t say:
utterances, wavering. Suddenly I was
exhausted, which happens in New York sometimes;
it wasn’t seeing you that
did me in. At night
outside the Time
Warner building stores
a scope was turned on Saturn
which I saw when my turn came. Not
at first. At first all l saw
was blackness in the eyepiece, then something jumped
in and out, and that was it.
I felt so caught off guard. This was
the Real! A silent, matte white
sphere with tilted rings
indifferent, absolute. It seemed an ancestor, long dead
and yet alive
moving from room to room
or putting on a coat, beyond indifferent to
the gawkers looking back. There was no way to play with it,
compete or condescend. How had I
forgotten it, or never
thought to look?
People came out of the stores
cosmetic stores, clothing stores with shiny windows
polished lit and clean. Cold black night, bright light stores
high atrium with huge bronze statues
mimicking soft flesh. I saw this building go up,
too; but all things pass, and so will this;
and so will you. In fact,
I’ve already erased
the message you left on my machine
asking if I had fun in New York.
This is to tell you
yes, I did,
although it seems strange of you to ask
as if you had nothing to do with it.
—Linda Bamber’s first collection of poems, Metropolitan Tang, has just been published by Black Sparrow Books. Her book on Shakespeare, Comic Women, Tragic Men, connecting issues of gender to matters of form, has been widely excerpted and anthologized. Her poems, stories, essays, and reviews have appeared in the Harvard Review, the Kenyon Review, Tikkun, The Nation, Raritan, and Ploughshares, which awarded her the Ploughshares Prize for her story, “The Time-to-Teach-Jane-Eyre-Again Blues.” She teaches in the English Department at Tufts and lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.