Waiting for the Light

Alicia Ostriker - 1937-

                    for Frank O’Hara

Frank, we have become an urban species
     at this moment many millions of humans are
          standing on some corner waiting like me

for a signal permitting us to go,
     a signal depicting a small pale pedestrian
          to be followed by a sea-green light

we do not use this opportunity
     to tune in to eternity
          we bounce upon our toes impatiently

It is a Thursday morning, Frank, and I feel
     rather acutely alive but I need a thing of beauty
          or a theory of beauty to reconcile me

to the lumps of garbage I cannot love enclosed
     in these tough shiny black plastic bags
          heaped along the curb of 97th Street, my street—

like a hideous reminder of the fate we all expect
     letting the bulky slimy truth of waste
          attack our aesthetic sense and joie de vivre

reliably every Thursday. Let me scan the handsome amber
     columned and corniced dwellings
          reflected in rear windows of parked cars, let me wish

luck to their hives of intimacies, people
     in kitchens finishing a morning coffee
          saying see you later to the ones they live with

Let me raise my eyes to the blue veil adrift
     between and above the artifice of buildings
          and at last I am slipping through a flaw in time

where the string of white headlights approaching, the string
     of red taillights departing, seem as if
          they carry some kind of message

perhaps the message is that one block west
     Riverside Park extends its length
          at the edge of Manhattan like the downy arm

of a tender, amusing, beautiful lover,
     and after that is the deathless river
          but waiting for the light feels like forever

More by Alicia Ostriker

psalm

I am not lyric any more
I will not play the harp
for your pleasure

I will not make a joyful
noise to you, neither
will I lament

for I know you drink 
lamentation, too,
like wine

so I dully repeat
you hurt me
I hate you

I pull my eyes away from the hills
I will not kill for you
I will never love you again

unless you ask me 

Exile

The downward turning touch
the cry of time
fire falling without sound
plunge my hand in the wound

children marching and dying
all that I do is a crime
because I do not reach
their mouths silently crying

my boychild reaches with his mouth
it is easy, being a mother
his skin is tender and soft
kisses stitch us together

we love as long as we may
then come years without kisses
when he will turn away
not to waste breath

when I too will fall
embracing a pillow at night
touching the stone of exile
reaching my hand to death

Insomnia

But it's really fear you want to talk about
and cannot find the words
so you jeer at yourself

you call yourself a coward
you wake at 2 a.m. thinking failure,
fool, unable to sleep, unable to sleep

buzzing away on your mattress with two pillows
and a quilt, they call them comforters,
which implies that comfort can be bought

and paid for, to help with the fear, the failure
your two walnut chests of drawers snicker, the bookshelves mourn
the art on the walls pities you, the man himself beside you

asleep smelling like mushrooms and moss is a comfort
but never enough, never, the ceiling fixture lightless
velvet drapes hiding the window

traffic noise like a vicious animal
on the loose somewhere out there—
you brag to friends you won't mind death only dying

what a liar you are—
all the other fears, of rejection, of physical pain,
of losing your mind, of losing your eyes,

they are all part of this!
Pawprints of this! Hair snarls in your comb
this glowing clock the single light in the room