"BE YOUR OWN MASTER!" says the Vedanta Society sign. Why not?…In the park Some clouds roll over me like Greenland on a map. If I wanted to I could imagine I was flying over The Greenland coast and gazing down at the white fjords. Instead I'm lying on the grass, listening to city sounds. They come to me in three-dimensional form, Like a loaf of Wonder Bread. Baby carriages squeak Near the middle. Cars humming through Central Park, Somewhere near the back of the loaf. What sound would be the end-piece, the round brown sliver? The unzipping of airline bags. Or a glove thwacked By a rookie pitcher who falls apart In the eighth inning. The manager takes the ball silently, Like a man who has eaten a full loaf of bread And has a stomach pain. Don't glamorize silence. There is nothing profound about quiet, it is usually Only the universe holding its stomach. Delmore Schwartz must have been a great talker. They say he put most of his talent into his life But I don't know, I think his prose is pretty great; He made a better storywriter than a poet. I could write a thousand-page biography Propounding that stance, and interview all the old rummy Critics who are powerful now; They would let their hair down about Delmore, And the final crackup. The reason I'm thinking of Delmore Schwartz is that He wrote a poem about city parks. And it wasn't that successful, It went on for about twelve pages, but I admired him For writing a poem with so little point, And so much prosy description. I think he was trying to Eulogize normal middle-class happiness on a Sunday afternoon, And how he felt out of it. But that wouldn't have Taken twelve pages…He was probably being ironic About the people's happiness, and secretly thought They weren't happy. He wrote it about the same time Robert Moses was carving out his parks empire By forcing the Long Island millionaires to give up their privacy So that the middle class could get to the beach. Of course it was also supposed to benefit The poor slum-dwellers, but how many of them Ever made it to Sunken Meadows? Or Jones Beach? What's strange about parks—innocent greenery— Is that no one ever suspected them to ruin New York. Yet what finally gutted the city were the parkways Moses built, slashed through all five boroughs Quiet lower-middle-class neighborhoods bulldozed For cars to get to the picnic grounds faster, Or the Hamptons— A life of paperwork capped by a summer home. But I can't blame them: I'd like a summer home myself! I don't really believe New York is dying, no more than The universe is dying. I have no stake in seeing This poem end pessimistically. I'd like to leave people with a good feeling. Robert Moses, Delmore Schwartz. Two ambitious Jews, like myself. They tried to be their own masters… It's hard to imagine New York going under On a slow summer day like today Without even a loud noise to mark it Like the Empire State Building keeling over And everyone running to the scene of default. The helicopters will be standing by, Ready to take us to Greenland. A special airlift for poetic men of letters, A jumbo Boeing crammed to the teeth, And you can't get in if your name isn't Listed in Poets and Writers Directory. "So long, New York School of Poets!" I'll stay behind, tending the weeds And sleeping in deserted Central Park. Soon I'll be hearing about the Godthaab School: Their seemingly infinite talent for "chatty brilliance," Buddhism, and marathon readings. I'll shake my head and sigh: What are Anne and Michael doing now? How was this year's big Halloween party, Or do they even celebrate Halloween in Greenland? Maybe they're into solstice holidays, like Midsummer Night.
A friend called up saying he was in a pre-suicidal mood. I told him to come over. I'd pay for the taxi. "Will you go back with me to my apartment if I start to panic?" I told him I would. He arrived feeling chipper. He wanted some wine. I gave him a little cold sauterne that had been sitting around in the icebox three weeks. He said it tasted sour.
He looked at all my photographs.
He said he was feeling better.
We went out to dinner,
But it had to be on Madison Avenue.
For some reason he trusted Madison Avenue whereas Lexington, Third, Second and
York were out to get him.
We sat in the last table far away from any draught.
I had my eyes on the delicatessen floor.
The radio was full of George Wallace being shot.
"Just like Huey Long," said my friend.
"Nixon did it
Now the gangsters are in the White House!"
I didn't argue.
My eyes were on my plate, Stuffed Derma and french fries.
Suddenly he asked: "Are you feeling closer to me...?"
Of course I was,
I loved him.
But I used different words so as not to frighten him.
His head vibrated like a top whirling so fast you can't see it spin.
We paid the check and I told him as we were walking along Fifth Avenue, to catch the
park and its rusty sunset, that I was also going through a bad time.
I had pinned my hopes on a shallow woman.
Though I no longer wanted her I felt curiously enervated.
Why this pain in my abdomen.
"Very simple," explained my friend.
"You experience an expansion, joy, the energy flows into all parts of the body.
Then a contraction, blocked, everything goes to the stomach.
You're still in high energy.
But there's no release.
The result is despair."
"That's it exactly!" I said to him.
It was getting darker and the first fat raindrops spattered onto the canopies.
The doormen were slipping inside, I was too excited to care.
"Answer me one more thing: expansion, contraction, physiology, I understand
But what is it that stops us, when we're so near to joy?"
Only now did I notice my friend had his mad look. His eyes, always beautiful, slid into passing cars. He begged me to stop talking but I wouldn't. I challenged him to explain the connections. This nightfall, the orange chocolate smell, the dumpy couple walking by. "Look at them," he said. "They're not going crazy. Because they're healthy? Or because they can't feel enough, because they don't know how to feel it."
Just then I felt it! Right through my body. "I feel it! I know what you mean! I feel it too!" I wanted him to know... "I don't think I'll wait for a bus," he said and jumped into a cab. His face wobbled against the wet glass.
The next day he was still alive. Still alive.