I’m late for the birth- day party, it’s one of those cool after- noons when the world is clear, is made of glass, the sky so blue you want to look up at the very center of its pupil in case you get a glimpse of what comes after we leave here. I’m thinking my lover’s sister is thirty-two today, but I want to let time stand still, let the tourists go on waving their America the Beautiful flags across 49th Street, let the three ladies whose hair is the color of smoke rising and ghosts taking leave of their senses go on laughing, near the fountain, may we all not have a care in the world. But it’s August 23rd, I must get on the train, yet a tree keeps holding my attention, its leaves luscious from the summer rain, there’s a canopy beneath which the Pakistani man I talked to last week sells his salty sauerkraut, lifting the lid and letting out steam each time he serves it over hot dogs, and the man pays him then turns toward me, his thick muscled arm tan in the sun, the tattoo: BORN FOR WAR. The day is gone, the people around me gone, I am trying not to forget that I’m a pacifist, trying not to pay attention to his name- brand shorts and sun glasses that won’t let you see a glint of eye behind them, I’m trying not to watch him eat the hot dog in two bites and nudge the woman beside him who pushes a stroller, his arm around her waist as he pivots and sees me staring. Yes he might leap to the right, grab my throat punch me shoot me gut me clean as a fish taken from the black glass of the city’s river street, but the church bells are tolling, people are saying their prayers three blocks from here in the hushed dark. So I take a deep breath and am no longer here, I haven’t been born yet, there is no state of California, no Gold Rush or steam engine, electricity hasn’t been invented, people cross open spaces on horses, no Middle Passage, and I watch the Huns kill the Visigoths who slice the throats of every living Etruscan, a crowning city is razed, the virgins raped, one nation fights for land to walk on, then are walked on until someone carves on a cave wall, then someone writes on papyrus, until we do it all again, right up to concentration camps, rivers flowing with nuclear waste. 49th Street floods back, and the man with the tattoo turns away, as if he’s decided not to crack my skull open and drink me today, the 965th day of the new century. War goes into fifth month. The church bells stop and the ladies get up and walk toward Radio City and while I don’t believe in an eye for an eye, I have a flash lasting no longer than it takes for a nuclear blast to render this city invisible, shadow of a human arm I’ve torn from its socket, its left hand gripping the air.
Copyright © Richard Tayson. Used with permission of the author.
Richard Tayson is the author of The World Underneath (The Kent State University Press, 2008) and The Apprentice of Fever (The Kent State University Press, 1998), winner of the Wick Poetry Prize. His honors include Prairie Schooner’s Bernice Slote and Edward Stanley Awards, as well as a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship. He teaches at The New School and the City University of New York.
Date Published: 2008-01-01
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/arms