The Lower East Side of Manhattan

Victor Hernández Cruz - 1949-
By the East River
of Manhattan Island
Where once the Iroquois
canoed in style—
A clear liquid
caressing another name
for rock,
Now the jumping
Stretch of Avenue D
housing projects
Where Ricans and Afros
Johnny Pacheco / Wilson Pickett
The portable radio night—
Across the Domino sugar
Neon lights of the Brooklyn shore

Window carnival of
megalopolis lights
From Houston Street
Twenty kids take off
On summer bikes
Across the Williamsburg
Bridge
Their hair flying
With bodega bean protein
Below the working class
jumping like frogs—
Parrots with new raincoats
swinging canes of bamboo
Like third legs
Down diddy-bop 6th Street
of the roaring Dragons
Strollers of cool flow

When winter comes they fly
In capes down Delancey
Past the bites of pastrami
Sandwiches in Katz's
Marching through red bricks
aglow dragging hind leg
Swinging arms
Defying in simalcas

Hebrew prayers inside
metallic containers
Rolled into walls
Tenement relic
Roofs of pigeon airports

Horse-driven carts
arrive with the morning
Slicing through the venetian
blinds
Along with a Polish English
Barking peaches and melons
Later the ice man a-cometh
Selling his hard water
cut into blocks
The afternoon a metallic
slide intercourses buildings
which start to swallow
coals down their basement
Mouths.

Where did the mountains go
The immigrants ask
The place where houses
and objects went back
Into history which guided
Them into nature

Entering the roots of plants
The molasses of fruit
To become eternal again,
Now the plaster of Paris
Are the ears of the walls
The first utterances in Spanish
Recall what was left behind.

People kept arriving
as the cane fields dried
Flying bushes from another
planet
Which had a pineapple for
a moon
Vegetables and tree bark
popping out of luggage
The singers of lament
into the soul of Jacob Riis
Where the prayers Santa Maria
Through remaining fibers
of the Torah
Eldridge Street lelolai
A Spanish never before seen
Inside gypsies.
Once Cordova the cabala
Haberdasheries of Orchard Street
Hecklers riddling bargains
Like in gone bazaars of
Some Warsaw ghetto.

Upward into the economy
Migration continues—
Out of the workers' quarters
Pieces of accents
On the ascending escalator.

The red Avenue B bus
disappearing down the
Needle holes of the garment
factories—
The drain of a city
The final sewers
Where the waste became antique
The icy winds
Of the river's edge
Stinging lower Broadway
As hot dogs
Sauerkraut and all
Gush down the pipes
of Canal

After Forsyth Park
is the beginning of Italy
Florence inside Mott
Street windows—
Palermo eyes of Angie
Flipping the big
hole of a 45 record
The Duprees dusting
Like white sugar onto
Fluffed dough—
Crisscrossing
The fire escapes
To arrive at Lourdes'
railroad flat
With knishes
she threw next to
Red beans.

Broome Street Hasidics
with Martian fur hats
With those ultimatum brims
Puerto Ricans supporting
pra-pras
Atop faces with features
Thrown out of some bag
Of universal race stew—
Mississippi rural slang
With Avenue D park view
All in exile from broken
Souths
The horses the cows the
chickens
The daisies of the rural
road
All past tense in the urbanity
that remembers
The pace of mountains
The moods of the fields.

From the guayaba bushels
outside of a town
With an Arowak name
I hear the flute shells
With the I that saw
Andalusian boats
Wash up on the beach
To distribute Moorish
eyes.

The Lower East Side
was faster than the speed
Of light
A tornado of bricks
and fire escapes
In which you had to grab
on to something or take
Off with the wayward winds—

The proletariat stoop voices
Took off like Spauldine
rubber balls
Hit by blue broomsticks
on 12th Street—
Wintertime summertime
Seasons of hallways and roofs
Between pachanga and doo-wop
A generation left
The screaming streets of
passage
Gone from the temporary
station of desire and disaster

I knew Anthony's
and Carmen
Butchy
Little Man
Eddie
Andrew
Tiny
Pichon
Vigo
Wandy
Juanito
Where are they?
The windows sucked them up
The pavement had mouths that
ate them
Urban vanishment
Illusion
I too
Henry Roth
"Call It Sleep."

More by Victor Hernández Cruz

Side 19

The Empire State Building
Is on 63rd Street
Ramon wanted to bet Manolo
Manolo said impossible
The Empire State Building 
Is on 72nd Street
They made a ten dollar bet
And borrowed Cheo's car
And headed towards Brooklin
When they came back
Late that night
All that Manolo wanted to know
Was
If Gloria cooked

Vigo Martin

In a city that now floats
in a bottle,
In a dimension outside
of the census,
within walls that were unregistered,
there was a painter,
Who performed his roll
like the Taino cave etchers,
the pyramid illustrators of
Mexico,
the scribblers of hieroglyphs.
Vigo painted the hallways
of the tenements,
While through the air
he flew upon a white horse,
Or smoked hashish for
his desert camel through
Moroccan tubes.
He painted rocks
which were heavy art.
Loose bricks were found
by landlords containing
Antillean pictographs.
An artisan of the streets,
whose smooth knowledge of
many angles
Made more lines visible
through the old face
of the barrio.

Against colorful bodega windows,
bright candy stores,
the epoch of the pachanga

Deep in the clubs of night
under the world
In the submetropolis of need,
against walls merely holding up.
Once we spoke of the art
of survival,
of loose lions and hungry tigers,
He painted lizard instincts
along imaginary river bamboo,
Frozen eye sockets
containing tar and northern ice.
We recognized how we were
packed in the chance of numbers,
ciphers in the wintry spread,
noses popping out of sardine cans,
We spoke against the doo-wop of
The Paragons Meet the Jesters
Till dawn brought
a blue light upon
roofs—the city skyline bricks steel
edges jagged in the wind.
In a conference of the stoops
he maintained that Dulces Labios
Mayaguez was his origin,
he spoke of sweet mangoes,
plena pulp,
Touching trees in honor
of the Tainos of his hands
stationed deep in his bark,
with his left hand where a tattooed
cherry blossomed.

Vigo made a collaboration
between survival and creativity,
He stored objects that came with
the wind,
Had a cellar full of broken gadgets
portions that could insert into
any malfunction,
A bazaar in search of a dictionary
of shapes and proportion.

He brushed himself like
freezer ice Halka brilliantine shine,
never alone always with a
prehistoric beast.
As evidence that I was there
on this other planet
I still maintain a rock
which he painted against
the laws of gravity
Now a paperweight
grounding the poetry of the tropics
Against the flight of the east trade
winds.

Latin & Soul

for Joe Bataan

1

some waves
                     a wave of now
                                               a trombone speaking to you
a piano is trying to break a molecule
is trying to lift the stage into orbit
around the red spotlights

a shadow
the shadows      of dancers
dancers     they are dancing    falling
out that space      made for dancing

they should dance
on the tables            they should
dance inside of their drinks
they should dance on the
ceiling they should dance/dance

thru universes
leaning-moving
                          we are traveling

where are we going
if we only knew

with this rhythm    with
this banging     with     fire
with this     all    this    O
my god i wonder    where are
we going
           sink into a room full of laughter
           full of happiness     full of life
           those dancers
           the dancers
           are clapping their hands
           stomping their feet

hold back them tears
                                     all those sentimental stories
cooked uptown       if you can           hold it for after

we are going
                     away-away-away
                     beyond these wooden tables
                     beyond these red lights
                     beyond these rugs & paper
                     walls beyond way past
                     i mean way past them clouds
                     over the buildings    over the
                     rivers    over towns    over cities
                     like on rails   but faster   like
                     a train    but smoother
                     away past stars
                     bursting with drums.


2

a sudden misunderstanding
                                                a cloud
                                                full of grayness
a body thru a store window
                                                a hand reaching
                                                into the back
                                                                      pocket
a scream
               a piano is talking to you
               thru all this
               why don't you answer it.