Biking to the George Washington Bridge

- 1937-

It sweeps away depression and today
you can’t tell the heaped pin-white
cherry blossoms abloom along
Riverside Drive from the clouds above
it is all kerfluffle, all moisture and light and so
into the wind I go
past Riverside Church and the Fairway
Market, past the water treatment plant
and in the dusky triangle below
a hulk of rusted railroad bed
a single hooded boy is shooting hoops

It’s ten minutes from here to the giant bridge
men’s engineering astride the sky heroic
an animal roar of motors on it
the little red lighthouse at its foot
big brother befriending little brother
in the famous children’s story
eight minutes back with the wind behind me
passing the boy there alone shooting
his hoops in the gloom

A neighborhood committee
must have said that space
should be used for something recreational
a mayor’s aide must have said okay
so they put up basketball and handball courts
and if it were a painting or a photo
you would call it American loneliness

More by Alicia Ostriker

psalm

I am not lyric any more
I will not play the harp
for your pleasure

I will not make a joyful
noise to you, neither
will I lament

for I know you drink 
lamentation, too,
like wine

so I dully repeat
you hurt me
I hate you

I pull my eyes away from the hills
I will not kill for you
I will never love you again

unless you ask me 

Exile

The downward turning touch
the cry of time
fire falling without sound
plunge my hand in the wound

children marching and dying
all that I do is a crime
because I do not reach
their mouths silently crying

my boychild reaches with his mouth
it is easy, being a mother
his skin is tender and soft
kisses stitch us together

we love as long as we may
then come years without kisses
when he will turn away
not to waste breath

when I too will fall
embracing a pillow at night
touching the stone of exile
reaching my hand to death

Insomnia

But it's really fear you want to talk about
and cannot find the words
so you jeer at yourself

you call yourself a coward
you wake at 2 a.m. thinking failure,
fool, unable to sleep, unable to sleep

buzzing away on your mattress with two pillows
and a quilt, they call them comforters,
which implies that comfort can be bought

and paid for, to help with the fear, the failure
your two walnut chests of drawers snicker, the bookshelves mourn
the art on the walls pities you, the man himself beside you

asleep smelling like mushrooms and moss is a comfort
but never enough, never, the ceiling fixture lightless
velvet drapes hiding the window

traffic noise like a vicious animal
on the loose somewhere out there—
you brag to friends you won't mind death only dying

what a liar you are—
all the other fears, of rejection, of physical pain,
of losing your mind, of losing your eyes,

they are all part of this!
Pawprints of this! Hair snarls in your comb
this glowing clock the single light in the room

Related Poems

Window Seat: Providence to New York City

My sixteenth
egret from
the window
of this train,
white against
the marshes'
shocking green
cushioning
Long Island
Sound from
Kingston down
to Mystic against
the shoreline's
erratic discipline:
the egret so
completely
still, the colors
so extreme,
the window
of my train
might be rolling
out a scroll
of meticulous
ancient Chinese
painting: my heart-
beat down its side
in liquid characters:
no tenses, no
conjunctions, just
emphatic strokes
on paper from
the inner bark
of sandalwood:
egret, marshes,
the number
sixteen: white
and that essential
shocking green
perhaps even
the character
for kingfisher
green balanced
with jade white
in ancient poems—
every other element
implicit in the
brush strokes'
elliptic fusion
of calm and motion,
assuring as my
train moves on
and marsh gives way
to warehouses
and idle factories
that my sixteen
egrets still remain:
each a crescent
moon against
an emerald sky,
alabaster on
kingfisher green,
its body motionless
on one lithe leg,
cradling its
surreptitious
wings