foto credit Maria Draghici
They Came in Scent
And outside, as a child,
above the grate,
the steam would rise,
and my grandmother would
say there were devils down there.
And years after, they came in scent
of electric smoke
from high voltage burn
that changed my childhood imaginings
of someone in red
to the now-dead musk of blue spark
and current arcs
that traveled from moving train
that swayed with long thin
pricking screaks in tunnels
to the lighted cavern of colly platforms
recognized by their indented steel pillars
of rivets rusted
emblemed with location
where we gathered in faces
in the absence of names
for a ride on steel
to reach work or home.
And that scent.
It fed off creosote
soaked railroad ties
that fucked the steel
dust of brake shoes
with lubricating oils
wearing on wheels
that spit its dust
on white enamel tile
that bore street numbers or names in glitz.
Crowing and pissing in drivel on the pretty laid work –
the rats hounding litter its tell.
Dribble and trickle of water,
mild dull grease pungence,
invisible wall of humidity.
It attempted to invite with its warmth
and some offered their liaison
of urine on floors and trash in corners
and in between track work
amid scheduled intervals of clangoring metal.
Static growing light afar in tunnel
as necks would crane
to see the approaching distance of the next train.
Its headlights two flames in a subway dark.
Soon reaching now.
Its rolling silver stock would roll by
blowing wind –
a respite from the stench
before screeching of brakes.
The cattle exiting.
The cattle entering.
And a new rumble forth to the next station
and its return of baleful breath.
Terrible Beauty. My Father’s City
Reflections on Manhattan – Delancey to Bleeker. Late 1970s.
To my father.
It was always grit
even before I knew what harsh was.
Streetlights in blitz.
And I always felt like the streets were veneered with rain
shiny in green and red
theater through a car window
creating the reflective stain.
The bridge haunted because it reminded
me of being inside a cavern.
Rattles – wheels on grate and metal patterns.
Arriving from where we departed,
Manhattan seemed a place of mistakes.
Foreign colors of skin, garb that seemed both familiar and distant
concrete towers in plush.
It had its own identity.
Marks on walls painted in bubble – script in rough.
A seven-year-old’s view from a car in a seat I didn’t have to buckle.
They were serpentine streets you took me to.
Buildings with fire escapes and raised eyes to a new bustle of shapes
that shared its nights with men leaning against poles smoking,
women in boots, dresses, purses hanging to waist.
And how the young and old mixed amidst blocks
we’d pass on Delancey to Bleeker.
The plentiful and pathetic.
Streets of saints and sinners
in wandering flocks.
How their time and electric simmered in night
along storefront lights
always with what seemed like raindrops stretching down glass
on streets that I knew, even as a child, had its own voice
before a city lost its terrible beauty
to gentry and everything was washed clean
on our way to a bakery
where I’d sleep on cardboard
behind the register while you baked.
I still remember the scent of bread,
your white shirt and pants I peeked at from my paper bed.
* Delancey: Delancey Street in Lower Manhattan
* Bleeker: Bleeker Street in Greenwich Village, New York
Only four blocks along the Brooklyn sidewalk cracks.
I reached the iron handrail choosy coming down the stoop –
there was always wrought iron spikes painted over five times black.
Now, down the street holding the sempstress’ hand
on the side of the warehouse clack.
The blocks back then sang Italian dialects,
Chinese sumac, tenements, static brick sublime
and shoe tossing on power lines.
The chorus followed of running cars, bruised trucks,
the haul and bumps of the city bus
while common sparrows and plumaged purple-green iridescent yellow beaked starlings – like us
took in the exhaust Delux.
Passed architecture her old valley never bore –
panoramic mortar and slab swapped for
fields of space, cool air, and the mountains
I’d come later in life to dream to be reborn in.
In a city of scars, her hand in my hand was a grandmother’s covenant –
a palm and hold that kicked back from whittling with scissors, drawing a pattern or cutting fabric but became on these walks an appendage document
for safety – for love.
Then the let go of skin to stroll ahead to pass the passersby –
bubble gum on the concrete,
a touch of Linden, Norway Maple, Black Locust
that was given a four by four space to breath by the city
with a bark stained piss.
The scoot by her to lovingly reach again
to cross the streets to bring me back to mamma
and a just rising father rested from a night of working ovens and shaping dough.
No longer choosy – I grasp the smooth rail on this stoop
with the spiral scroll balusters and climb to the entrance of home.
My thirst for love quenched.
* Withers – Withers Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn
* Conselyea – Conselyea Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn