Arms

Richard Tayson
I’m late for the birth-
day party, it’s one
of those cool after-

noons when the world
is clear, is made
of glass, the sky

so blue you want to
look up at the very
center of its pupil

in case you get
a glimpse of what
comes after

we leave here.  I’m
thinking my lover’s
sister is thirty-two

today, but I want
to let time stand
still, let the tourists

go on waving their 
America the Beautiful
flags across 49th

Street, let the three
ladies whose hair
is the color of smoke

rising and ghosts
taking leave of their
senses go on laughing,

near the fountain, may
we all not have 
a care in the world.  But

it’s August 23rd,  I must
get on the train, yet 
a tree keeps holding 

my attention, its leaves
luscious from the summer
rain, there’s a canopy

beneath which the Pakistani
man I talked to last
week sells his salty

sauerkraut, lifting
the lid and letting out 
steam each time he

serves it over hot
dogs, and the man
pays him then turns

toward me, his thick
muscled arm tan
in the sun, the tattoo:

BORN
FOR
WAR.  The day

is gone, the people
around me gone, I am
trying not to forget

that I’m a pacifist,
trying not to pay
attention to his name-

brand shorts and sun
glasses that won’t
let you see a glint

of eye behind them,
I’m trying not to watch
him eat the hot dog in two 

bites and nudge the woman
beside him who pushes
a stroller, his arm around

her waist as he pivots and
sees me staring.  Yes he might
leap to the right, grab

my throat punch
me shoot me gut
me clean as a fish

taken from the black glass
of the city’s river street, but
the church bells are tolling,

people are saying
their prayers three blocks
from here in the hushed

dark.  So I take a deep
breath and am no longer
here, I haven’t been

born yet, there is no state
of California, no Gold
Rush or steam

engine, electricity hasn’t 
been invented, people
cross open spaces

on horses, no Middle
Passage, and I watch 
the Huns kill the Visigoths 

who slice the throats 
of every living
Etruscan, a crowning 

city is razed, the virgins
raped, one nation
fights for land

to walk on, then are
walked on until 
someone carves on a cave

wall, then someone 
writes on papyrus, 
until we do it all 

again, right up to
concentration camps, rivers 
flowing with nuclear

waste.  49th Street
floods back, and the man
with the tattoo turns

away, as if he’s decided
not to crack my skull 
open and drink me 

today, the 965th day
of the new century.  War
goes into fifth month.  The church

bells stop and the ladies
get up and walk
toward Radio City 

and while I don’t believe 
in an eye for an eye, I have
a flash lasting no longer

than it takes for a nuclear
blast to render this city
invisible, shadow

of a human arm I’ve torn
from its socket, its left
hand gripping the air.

Copyright © Richard Tayson. Used with permission of the author.

Copyright © Richard Tayson. Used with permission of the author.

Richard Tayson