New Yor I

N
New Yor I! Graveyard bristling with monuments
and receptions for business purposes!
Has my right hand lost its cunning?
It can't remember how to spell your name:
unless I scowl, my keyboard won't offer
the K: it throws up I instead.

I was actually born on your streets,
Lexington at 76th. So was my mother.
My parents were married there, and so was I, once.
My mother, father, mother's mother and father
spent much of their lives dying there.
Talk about roots? Better call me
New Yorker, New Yor I, on your distaff side.

A Boston wag once said, "If you're from New York,
you're Jewish; if you're not, you're not.” Not bad.
My father, reared in Yorkshire, came to the
new city in hot pursuit of Natalie Weiner.
Reader, she married him. I drop the K and write
an I instead: What am I asking with my Is?

Walking along West 12th Street, I had to cower
by the brownstone wall while two men
at the sidewalk's core, grunting and snarling,
scooped with drawn switchblades at one another's vitals.
We passers-by waited till we dared pass.
Many of my friends, when New York lurched,
jumped, it seems. When they have things to make
they find a place in the country and force their bloom.
If they have great need for money, they
hunker in town, behind the locked doors
of penthouses and limos, lounge at marble desks,
barking and whining into telephones
whose trade mark reads Patrician,
tapping instructions, quicker than brain-speed,
demanding quicker responses
from anyone unluckily out to lunch
or anyone fatally out of town.

Decades ago, on a holiday morning, a black girl
knocked at my apartment door and gave herself
to me for a glass of water. A white friend
took me to a darkened bar, where trade
postured and preened, wary between mirror walls.
Sex had something to do with it.
Along my dream-streets women beckoned me,
their breasts bared, faces insistent,
eyes aglitter with a brightness
that I could not imagine satisfying.
Epiphany: a conclave, gin-and-tonic,
at which the hostess sat down in the chicken mousse
before serving it. She burst into tears,
locked herself, glass in hand, into the bathroom
and emerged an hour later, engaged to be married
to a near-stranger, Sex had something to do with it.

New Yor I,city of clusterers, gravedigger
of friendship, Babylon's standard-bearer,
how can I capture the smirk on your face?
l cringe at the walls of your museums and theatres,
wriggle into your soft beds, sink in your restaurants,
Mighty Manhatta! while I cower at your bullies,
your parochial arrogance, your firestorms of gossip,
your snickering put-downs of out-of-towners.
I had better renounce you, Newyori,
risk dismissing my name (common property)
and my inheritance by trashing my birthplace.
Why not? My heart has left town.
Sleek in your worsteds and leathers,
you yearn westward toward the India
you have yet to take passage for.
56
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