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Broadway -- Mark Doty

Guest poem sent in by Sashidhar Dandamudi
(Poem #1175) Broadway
 Under Grand Central's tattered vault
   --maybe half a dozen electric stars still lit--
     one saxophone blew, and a sheer black scrim

 billowed over some minor constellation
   under repair. Then, on Broadway, red wings
     in a storefront tableau, lustrous, the live macaws

 preening, beaks opening and closing
   like those animated knives that unfold all night
     in jewelers' windows. For sale,

 glass eyes turned outward toward the rain,
   the birds lined up like the endless flowers
     and cheap gems, the makeshift tables

 of secondhand magazines
   and shoes the hawkers eye
     while they shelter in the doorways of banks.

 So many pockets and paper cups
   and hands reeled over the weight
     of that glittered pavement, and at 103rd

 a woman reached to me across the wet roof
   of a stranger's car and said, I'm Carlotta,
     I'm hungry. She was only asking for change,

 so I don't know why I took her hand.
   The rooftops were glowing above us,
     enormous, crystalline, a second city

 lit from within. That night
   a man on the downtown local stood up
     and said, My name is Ezekiel,

 I am a poet, and my poem this evening is called
   fall. He stood up straight
     to recite, a child reminded of his posture

 by the gravity of his text, his hands
   hidden in the pockets of his coat.
     Love is protected, he said,

 the way leaves are packed in snow,
    the rubies of fall. God is protecting
     the jewel of love for us.

 He didn't ask for anything, but I gave him
   all the change left in my pocket,
     and the man beside me, impulsive, moved,

 gave Ezekiel his watch.
   It wasn't an expensive watch,
     I don't even know if it worked,

 but the poet started, then walked away
   as if so much good fortune
     must be hurried away from,

 before anyone realizes it's a mistake.
   Carlotta, her stocking cap glazed
     like feathers in the rain,

 under the radiant towers, the floodlit ramparts,
   must have wondered at my impulse to touch her,
     which was like touching myself,

 the way your own hand feels when you hold it
   because you want to feel contained.
     She said, You get home safe now, you hear?

 In the same way Ezekiel turned back
   to the benevolent stranger.
     I will write a poem for you tomorrow,

 he said. The poem I will write will go like this:
   Our ancestors are replenishing
     the jewel of love for us.
-- Mark Doty
(From My Alexandria, published by University of Illinois Press.)

My Alexandria (1993), was chosen by Philip Levine for the National
Poetry Series. It won the National Book Critics Circle Award and
Britain's T.S. Eliot Prize, and was also a National Book Award finalist.


I, by happenstance, came upon this volume of poems in which Doty explores
landscape in poetry. This poem is one such piece. I have never been to New
York, but the setting can be any city of the world. The woman who asks for
money and the poet by the name Ezekiel, can be people we have met somewhere
sometime. And most important this poem reminds us how the "impulse to
touch her" is one way (and perhaps the only way) to "feel contained".


[Martin adds]

I *have* been to New York. The poem is perfect.


  [broken link]

We did a "Songs of the City" theme a while ago:
  [broken link]

44 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

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