Ghosts of December 8

the Virgin Mary
immaculately conceived
John Lennon shot dead
in the archway embrace of the Dakota

more popular than her son
our day and night Dad
the 8th birthday
without you

numbers fade
from the page
no one to call
at dawn

that French bistro
on Madison Avenue
in Murray Hill
where we met halfway

you from Jersey
me CT
we were so tri-state
je suis un peu triste

moi aussi

Grand Central
our hello
good-bye stanza

the day’s haunts
this day haunts
the number 8

What’s Really in the Firebox?

With a wilted rose
carelessly dropped,
the enterprise soars over
chair factory debris
onto a turntable of nights.

Is it the heat
or crackle,
flicker or aroma
of burning wood
that walks you home?

Hearth is not such a dirty word.
Ash dump delicious,
keep the flue clean.
Love your chimney sweep.
Treat your fear

of bats flying
down and out
and around and overhead
with a simple,
braver beat.

Here’s hoping your cat
is still eyeing
winged movements
above in
the ever after.

A wrought-iron chandelier
and surrounding ribs
stare back—so fixed
the word “dangle” cannot squeeze
itself into the commons.

If you love the place
more than the people,
are you merely the thing
to pity, or
a true lover

of sidewalk ghosts
crossing narrow streets
to slip up tiny blocks—
so compressed and combustible,
renewable and releasing?

Vertical poetry at its best,
truth is the city never left you,
you left the city.

You heartbreaker,
living your unlicensed life
hoping to keep
your New Yorker status
perpetually renewed.

Wintry Mix

you hold the last particles
of the City in the warming
palm of your hand

she slowly removes her heart
from a 1985 photo taken inside
a subway car as it rises above

ground interior tags everywhere
burners burning bright
on the outside

you solitary city
dweller consider the middle
coffee bar hearths

flames ignite the hood of a parked pickup
reflection wrangles reality
in another glass pane

her blood travels
along this northern corridor
from the Mississippi to the Hudson

and back / it’s not the tears
it’s the battle to quell them
that burns a hole clear through

you wait for the night to reveal
how you celebrate this life
from hapless loser to happy loner

family / place / home / people
her apology to the planet
is never enough

you need a city
big enough to tuck into
sweet anonymity

she walks on ice
in the snow
then the rain

then the new weather
more mysterious
than the new math

a man with a bottle
of something brown
in his fist

outside Lowry Hill Liquors
screams words
you can’t decipher

shuffling through the slush with a walker
another man scolds the first
with head bowed the drunk one turns

retraces erratic steps
to hold the butcher shop door open
they both slip inside

she just wants to make it
to today’s coffee bar
without falling down

safe inside you’re going to need
another cup of coffee
to decode the morning already gone

Borough Blues

in this latest dream
I walk through a railroad apartment

space plays a cameo
I rent never buy

scour the no fee apartment listings
in the Village Voice on Tuesdays

never lived in Brooklyn
or Staten Island

I know someone who has lived
in all five

never celebrated a birthday in Queens
there was that nasty heatwave in 1988

living so close to LaGuardia
had no perks

never give up believing in the Bronx
step streets and graffiti and

a Riverdale Diner breakfast
hangover cure and all those books

I read on the 1 train
one hour each way

Manhattan is for marathons
and making that decision to leave

the one I will forever question
to the brink of regret

till I always remember
it’s better this way

longing is sweet
the Voice long gone

Elbow Room

who needs it
to be anonymous in a crowd
is the only dream you keep afloat
in a briny brew of ambivalence

the copper glow
of civil twilight
hovers momentarily above
the 79th Street Boat Basin

the Hotel Belleclaire
pretty on the outside
mille-feuille tucked inside
the view crumbles over an airshaft

hair dryers smoke to death
crowded coffee bars
no standing room
no end to stress

the end of stress
comes when you give away your power
in exchange for the thrill
of a wild brake free ride

you’ll never reach the Spuyen Duyvil
the way it once was
the mid-century Blue Building
blocks access to the Big C Rock

who will hold your hand
when you jump off
to prove your worth
to the Inwood Hill Park ridge

crossed the Broadway Bridge
on the #1 train
twice a day for 2 1/2 years
never thought about the water

you were crossing
on the way to Kingsbridge the Bronx
where you first declared yourself
a New Yorker

the way you will never be
a Minnesotan
the Mississippi
will not be claimed

if you can claim even a drop
of that forgotten creek
milk crates stolen from PS 7
a triptych of red doors

you admit nothing
as you stare at a rebuilt stoop
on Corlear Avenue
addicted to tears then as now

a thousand sheets
to the wind no more

when are you going to stop
this nonsense long enough
to report the worst
recurring nightmare of your life

in the bowels of the New York subway
the way it was
when you first experienced it
in 1976

could be the 168th Street Station
a crazy maze of narrow corridors
the stench and the heat
coming from somewhere

you can’t see
mysterious liquid dripping from rows
and rows of stalactites
dangling severely overhead

a pocket of cold threatens your feet
as you try to get from
the A to the 1
without falling over the edge

onto a thousand third rails
and the rats / well you know / bigger
than the biggest bread box
don’t look inside

you stuff yourself
into a crowded elevator
that goes down forever
a restroom you shouldn’t enter

neverending footsteps
behind you
getting closer
all the time

graffiti
do I hate you
do I love you
when you’re awake

Neptune and his sea
monsters in cast iron
stain a ring
around your heart

there is no treatment
there is no cure
there is this
vertical beauty

it’s not going anywhere
a map you know better
than your own footprints
in wet cement

Home In On Out

what is a creek
what is a house / the full

tally of waterways
cannot be accessed

this way / another flood
shuts down the lake

drive / meanwhile
California burns up

then down
colder than hell

makes sense for some
not this northern girl

I’ve been living here
too long / anywhere

there’s a drop
I will test for salt

to be certain
my own sitting down place

has a view
of the devil

as it spouts
on and off

November Snow Wants to Be Something It Isn’t

reds oranges yellows even greens
can’t be overcome by white
the year has gotten so old
not old enough to remember / why

do I have to explain
the absence of trees
in Iceland
isn’t the image enough

slurry flurry
It will fade
by morning
with tonight’s stars

I say good-bye
not to the river
I say good-bye
not to the people

I say good-bye
to a view
a proximity a perspective
a cache of stories

worth retelling
in new light

the day my father died
I walked the river for hours
the nearest body of water
that moved him

every waterfront
is another bear hug
smiling eyes damp with tears
I inherited

I am saying good-bye
to him again
over and over again
the rush of the falls

someone lights a fire
to warm the room
the Mississippi’s not going anywhere
please don’t be a lie