Avatar at the Gas Station, Lower East Side
Half-mad in half-illumination
lives the city’s unborn portion.
I could turn into a sparrow,
or a peel of paint, or a body adrift
on the Hudson. Such bounty of acts here.
But the way out is the way in,
moving up and down unrented beings.
I have come this far from all
gradations, my heart pried open
and precise, draining its poisons.
Each turn I took gave way to more
corners and roads where tenements and men
stood, no, flexed in secret strobe light,
each to his own fix leashed, lulled out
of contention by their shine-chewed eyes.
From the grid of these dark avenues
I mapped a labyrinth of my own,
its walls propped up by old church hymns,
its turns abrupt, sharp with the seethe
of ravening ravenings, thrills, near-deaths.
No one tracked me down here but the sense
of old desolation and collapse
breaking into flower between
the obscure dirt of these walls and the
headlights of cars battered like egos.
Free to be my own waste-winding
strip of empty synagogues, I rest
my orbit here awhile and run
my fears across familiar dread.
I will be reading poems and defying deaths
Before these implements and faces
of familiar strangers, great bridges and
cathedrals, and unconsoling squares and parks.
Embossed among these future souvenirs
I feel less hurt than proud and lost, intimate.
When these words release my hand
they go away, they all go away
to look for the father.
They also leave
who once gripped my arm
as though I was a more solid piece
of the country we left behind.
We talked of hunger and dark roads,
of letters unreceived,
of snow and apple trees and new words learned
to name the old griefs
and the new difficulties.
Now the lights go out too.
The bareness of the dark
makes the room look wider.
Here I can touch everything again.
Sleep is alive with old furniture and houses,
insects and lace and rivers of childhood.
Perhaps these make certain my return—
as into the love of a woman gone,
as into the love of a woman loved
that I moved away
when she moved near me.
It was art made me.
I had to fight for the grace
and the distance I sought,
until tale by tale I recovered the island
where the whole emotion began.
Is it now completed?—
That I can go where all stories go
as if it were a place
I can point to in a map,
and it is both familiar and unvisited,
and it makes a difference in a life to be lived,
and the difference it makes
is yet another difference in words?
I move on, I move on.
Perhaps just for the turns in the road
that might still surprise with a glimpse
of ricefields and haystacks at dusk, and
beyond the voices of children running home
the clumps of bamboos slender
with the slenderness of strength and peace.
Soon everything I have named
will inhabit me with the lightness
of my footsteps.
Let it be.
I shall no longer be away
from anyone, no longer be
the longing for home.
I have learned how to wait,
now I must welcome.
I have known what I am moved by—
a little kindness,
a little warmth.