The Galleons

Rick Barot

Because I am reading Frank O’Hara
while sitting on a bench at the Brooklyn Promenade

I am aware it is 10:30 in New York
on a Tuesday morning

the way O’Hara was always aware
of what day and hour and season were in front of him

It is 12:20 in New York a Friday
he wrote almost sixty years ago on a July moment

that must have been like the one I am having now
the summer hour blossoming

at the promenades by the rivers and in the parks
and in the quiet aisles of the city

when everyone who should be at work
is at work and the trees are meditating

on how muggy it will be today
and the fleets of strollers are out in the sunshine

expanse of the morning
the strollers that are like galleons

carrying their beautiful gold cargo
being pushed by women whose names once graced

the actual galleons Rosario
Margarita Magdalena along with other names

Essie Maja from places that history has patronized
like O’Hara going into the bank

for money or the bookstore to buy
an ugly NEW WORLD WRITING to see what

the poets / in Ghana are doing these days
or the liquor store for liquor

or the tobacconist for tobacco
and sitting at the Brooklyn Promenade I haven’t looked

at the news to see who now has died
though my fingers keep touching the phone’s face

to find out that when it is 10:30 in the morning
in New York it is 11:30 in the night

in Manila and it is 4:30 in the afternoon in Lagos
and in Warsaw and it is 9:30

in the morning in Guatemala City
where it is also Tuesday and where it is also summer

More by Rick Barot

Cascades 501

The man sitting behind me
is telling the man sitting next to him about his heart bypass.

Outside the train’s window, the landscapes smear by—
the earnest, haphazard distillations of America. The backyards

and back sides of houses. The back lots of shops
and factories. The undersides of bridges. And then the
        stretches

of actual land, which is not so much land
but the kinds of water courses and greenery that register

like luck in the mind. Dense walls of trees.
Punky little woods. The living continually out-growing

the fallen and decaying. The vines and ivies taking over
everything, proving that the force of disorder is also the force

of plenty. Then the eye dilating to the sudden
clearings—fields, meadows. The bogs that must have been left

by retreating glaciers. The creeks, the algae broth
of ponds. Then the broad silver of rivers, shiny

as turnstiles. Attrition, dispersal, growth—a system unfastened
to story, as though the green sight itself

was beyond story, was peacefully beyond any clear meaning.
But why the gust of alertness that comes

to me every time any indication of the human
passes into sight—like a mirror, like to like, even though I am
        not

the summer backyard with the orange soccer ball resting
there, even though I am not the pick-up truck

parked in the back lot, its two doors opened
wide, and no one around to show whether it is funny

or an emergency that the truck is like that. Each thing looks 
        new
even when it is old and broken down.

They had to open me up—the man is now telling the other
        man.
I wasn’t there to see it, but they opened me up.

Dragged Mass

What are we supposed to make
of the granite block dragged across the dirt lot

behind a tractor that has been instructed
to build up a mound out of the displaced dirt, a mess

far away from what we would call the aesthetic
and more to do with the disturbance

of fresh graves or construction, the rock
so enormous it seems more conceptual than actual,

the way large things tend to be, the way scale
is a kind of assertion, the larger

the louder, and the smaller heartbreaking,
so that we want to imagine the theatrics of the dirt lot

back to the artist’s hand on paper,
the artist trying to transform desire into vision,

or a representation of something
like vision, one that makes us see the granite

and the hurt earth as images of the body, of gravity,
of what time does to the body,

which is to scour it, which must have something to do
with why I am looking at you now, asleep

among blue sheets as though it is any morning,
in winter light, in the light of the eye.

 

A Poem as Long as California

This is my pastoral: that used-car lot
where someone read Song of Myself over the loudspeaker

all afternoon, to customers who walked among the cars
mostly absent to what they heard,

except for the one or two who looked up
into the air, as though they recognized the reckless phrases

hovering there with the colored streamers,
their faces suddenly loose with a dreamy attention.

This is also my pastoral: once a week,
in the apartment above, the prayer group that would chant

for a sustained hour. I never saw them,
I didn’t know the words they sang, but I could feel

my breath running heavy or light
as the hour’s abstract narrative unfolded, rising and falling

like cicadas, sometimes changing in abrupt
turns of speed, as though a new cantor had taken the lead.

And this, too, is my pastoral: reading in my car
in the supermarket parking lot, reading the Spicer poem

where he wants to write a poem as long
as California. It was cold in the car, then it was too dark.

Why had I been so forlorn, when there was so much
just beyond, leaning into life? Even the cart

humped on a concrete island, the left-behind grapefruit
in the basket like a lost green sun.

And this is my pastoral: reading again and again
the paragraph in the novel by DeLillo where the family eats

the takeout fried chicken in their car,
not talking, trading the parts of the meal among themselves

in a primal choreography, a softly single consciousness,
while outside, everything stumbled apart,

the grim world pastoralizing their heavy coats,
the car’s windows, their breath and hands, the grease.

If, by pastoral, we mean a kind of peace,
this is my pastoral: walking up Grand Avenue, down Sixth

Avenue, up Charing Cross Road, down Canal,
then up Valencia, all the way back to Agua Dulce Street,

the street of my childhood, terrifying with roaring trucks
and stray dogs, but whose cold sweetness

flowed night and day from the artesian well at the corner,
where the poor got their water. And this is

also my pastoral: in 1502, when Albrecht Dürer painted
the young hare, he painted into its eye

the window of his studio. The hare is the color
of a winter meadow, brown and gold, each strand of fur

like a slip of grass holding an exact amount
of the season’s voltage. And the window within the eye,

which you don’t see until you see, is white as a winter sky,
though you know it is joy that is held there.

Related Poems

luam, new york

The flies, six
in a metallic pile, identical
green, identical
bristle & gaud.

To see so clearly
the science
in their suits.

And yesterday, the woman
asking, Are you twins?

My sister & I, whose
mothers are different,
whose years are.

From a distance,
are we, species by species,
identical? Each other.
Our needs & moving. Dear Fly,

my Other Life out
splintering, involved
in the evolution:

we are like siblings,
you & I, separated
by many years, & rooms.