harlem river baby
Selected poems from the acclaimed chapbook from Quick Books, 1984
You Who Wouldn't Listen, Cuba
you had no choice but
snap the antenna
from the white Galaxie
making it promise
to cut the eyes
of the big Irishman from Sedgwick
you who wouldn’t listen Cuba
that he was too much
for even you
standing there tense
as a stiletto
moving like a far away
Spanish dream in your cape
his big mitts falling upon
your smooth lips
your curses reddening
the concrete summoning
your big brother Charlie
and the rest of the Crowns
from aqua club rooms on
Southern Boulevard and Fox
only me and Renee now
holding the six inch blade
out on a midsummer prayer
Midnight Sweet
In the heavy window
I saw our mouths go cockeyed
southbound on the IRT

I think my chest
tried even harder
than yours Richie
against the vended kraut
of Times Square
our arms testifying
among the mechanical billboards

" what do you got boys
maybe fifteen
maybe twenty among you"

still before the dance hall photos
all four of us
followed that gimp
into dream abandoned
parts of Forty-Ninth

unrattling on the green floor landing
the four of us
wanting to understand
that the big dark beauties
the man called "midnight sweet"
would come
Angels on the Harlem
we waited for the brakeman
to come tip the sky
curled up in the first
hot stillness of summer
Johnny and me pulling out
L&Ms from Rexall’s
down by the Harlem River
filling the white bag
with plastic glue

someone came up and held onto us
in the darkness
as we rocked the soda machines
telling us we’d
live like angels
but love no one again

we scattered over the gravel
like kicked dogs
to the station house
biting our thumbs to come down
hoping Cathy and Denise
were home sleeping forever
and it was Tuesday morning again

we eased back against the cool bricks
in the swinging brakeman’s light
wishing only to finish
what we had started
a red quarter and a two-foot eel
laid down like a neck piece on the tracks
Marble Hill
Denise I need you again
on the project bench
turned around
behind building four
forking your chest in my neck
asking my ears
to please show you the middle
of the grass oval
the end of August

who’d know we were trembling
under the stiff hedges
promising the fortunes
of a life we never owned
Harlem River Baby
The river opens up
its shirt once in awhile
delivers handfuls of raw laundry
from Broadway and Two-Thirtieth

the sick legs of Irish mothers
brown fishermen on their knees
in the breakers
the bridgeworker turned up swollen
in the pilings
the mystery sailor come home anyway

And I take you here
night after night, Denise
past the stacked soda empties
and the parking lot
like it were a cathedral
made up on the hard iron
and the cherry lights of Broadway
our own black river
far from the shiver of mothers’ calls
where me and Richie and Cuba
sing closed-eyed into the moon
where we grind and promise
in the rocks
our lips gone red and sore

come to the window
I won’t jump
I won’t say goodbye
I’ll whisper under
the late jackhammers
how I love you tonight
A Street Friend Dies
go far Diego
as if the moon were springloaded
and there was the price of a meal
waiting for you
on one blond streetcorner
of the universe

don’t forget how hungry
you were for your mother
and the brown girls on the roof
dressing amid the pigeons

you won’t load your truck anymore
and take it behind New Jersey
to unfinished towns
with no such room
for Spanish boys

no make instead a bedroll
of knives and beery eyes
and your tender dressings
of the Chevrolet
by chance other hardened Jewboys
stalk the black sky

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