I, New York

I long to hear the history of ordinary people who populate and recreate all over the NYC subway lines, strung together like beans on a charmbracelet drumming on their worldly advice and late-night distractions,
I smoked an ashtray’s worth of cigarettes, cold and tired and snuffing out the little fire on yellow brick walls baring my bones to the whims of demolition,
I jumped over to Manhattan from Staten Island wishing to be Superman but also making music, yes music, from stretched out lizard skins suspended in animation,
I wiped the hair off my scalp dancing around a hollow pumpkin, swore to the forehead of my German moms that I would be unmarried at 50 or otherwise relocate to a harsher life in Uzbekistan,
I hid behind cardamom, cumin, and Halal-style chicken with my eyes darted thinking about Egypt, and the ABCs of Atlantic Barclays Center, Brooklyn, and a biweekly regular named Catherine,
I drank in a tent in the Q train station at Beverly, never showered but always made time to guide clueless New Yorkers to alternative train service like an MTA angel,
I in a rush to get to a Malaysian restaurant in Chinatown dozed off daydreaming about mushrooms, catfish, silkworms and missed my destination by just one stop; went back the other way and still couldn’t stop dreaming,
I asked for baby formula, bow-legged and inarticulate, full of luck and lice on my silver hair, dashed from one street to the other, filling the night with whispers and threats of self-immolation,
I broke a mirror three years before, and now, feeling the effect of medications, yearned to go back to a more violent time in quiet white rooms praying to another religion mistaken for glued together plastic flowers,
I drank my Vietnamese sweat, turned around when spoken to in God’s language, offered fresh fish, pears, and dried plums on a makeshift altar afraid to blink under oath

Copyright © 2022 by Lam Lai. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 11, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.