Under Grand Central's tattered vault —maybe half a dozen electric stars still lit— one saxophone blew, and a sheer black scrim billowed over some minor constellation under repair. Then, on Broadway, red wings in a storefront tableau, lustrous, the live macaws preening, beaks opening and closing like those animated knives that unfold all night in jewelers' windows. For sale, glass eyes turned outward toward the rain, the birds lined up like the endless flowers and cheap gems, the makeshift tables of secondhand magazines and shoes the hawkers eye while they shelter in the doorways of banks. So many pockets and paper cups and hands reeled over the weight of that glittered pavement, and at 103rd a woman reached to me across the wet roof of a stranger's car and said, I'm Carlotta, I'm hungry. She was only asking for change, so I don't know why I took her hand. The rooftops were glowing above us, enormous, crystalline, a second city lit from within. That night a man on the downtown local stood up and said, My name is Ezekiel, I am a poet, and my poem this evening is called fall. He stood up straight to recite, a child reminded of his posture by the gravity of his text, his hands hidden in the pockets of his coat. Love is protected, he said, the way leaves are packed in snow, the rubies of fall. God is protecting the jewel of love for us. He didn't ask for anything, but I gave him all the change left in my pocket, and the man beside me, impulsive, moved, gave Ezekiel his watch. It wasn't an expensive watch, I don't even know if it worked, but the poet started, then walked away as if so much good fortune must be hurried away from, before anyone realizes it's a mistake. Carlotta, her stocking cap glazed like feathers in the rain, under the radiant towers, the floodlit ramparts, must have wondered at my impulse to touch her, which was like touching myself, the way your own hand feels when you hold it because you want to feel contained. She said, You get home safe now, you hear? In the same way Ezekiel turned back to the benevolent stranger. I will write a poem for you tomorrow, he said. The poem I will write will go like this: Our ancestors are replenishing the jewel of love for us.
barks at whatever’s
not the world as he prefers to know it:
trash sacks, hand trucks, black hats, canes
and hoods, shovels, someone smoking a joint
beneath the Haitian Evangelicals’ overhang,
anyone—how dare they—walking a dog.
George barks, the tense white comma
of himself arced in alarm.
At home he floats
in the creaturely domestic: curled in the warm
triangle behind a sleeper’s knees,
wiggling on his back on the sofa, all jelly
and sighs, requesting/receiving a belly rub.
No worries. But outside the apartment’s
metal door, the unmanageable day assumes
its blurred and infinite disguises.
Best to bark.
No matter that he’s slightly larger
than a toaster; he proceeds as if he rules
a rectangle two blocks deep, bounded west
and east by Seventh Avenue and Union Square.
Whatever’s there is there by his consent,
and subject to the rebuke of his refusal
—though when he asserts his will
he trembles. If only he were not solely
responsible for raising outcry
at any premonition of trouble
on West 16th Street, or if, right out
on the pavement, he might lay down
the clanking armor of his bluster.
Some evening when he’s climbed the stairs
after our late walk, and rounds
the landing’s turn and turns his way
toward his steady sleep, I wish he might
be visited by a dream of the world as kind,
how any looming unknown might turn out
to hold—the April-green of an unsullied
tennis ball? Dear one, surely the future
can’t be entirely out to get us?
And if it is, barking won’t help much.
But no such luck, not yet.
He takes umbrage, this morning,
at a stone image serene in a neighbor’s garden,
and stiffens and fixes and sounds
his wild alarm: Damn you,
Buddha, get out of here, go away!