It was an August day – like this –
when the rush hit the woman
crossing right there!
So she sprawled as if to bed
across the yellow hood
of a taxi paused on red.
And there, across 2nd, where
a man actually caught a guy
jimmying his car door at 3 am
but met the wrath of a linebacker
turned drag queen who strolling
their way from the Village whipped
up a garbage can lid like a shield to
wallop him, drawling,
“Run, honey, run!”
to the startled perp, who did.
Felicity lived on the third floor
of that one. She barely
knew us, but found us a place,
sold us her Cuisinart that I still use,
with its NYPD etched ID. She
read my stories & found them worthless,
the first of many comeuppances
the city doles out like rain.
You know that church as the place
where a teenaged Patti Smith read her poems.
I get that but think first of memorials
to young men — Mark, Christiaan, Randy, Jim, Rudy –
held there in the plague times years ago.
That storefront – now a Starbucks – bore the scrawl
“Kill Gentry” the week we moved in upstairs.
In a building with an actual elevator! To our fifth floor
aerie, like any of the city’s million old boxes,
a town in its own right, rife with sit-com strife,
tortured pasts, swaps & bargains and convoluted
relationships. People arrived from dead end towns
to whatever escape they could muster, all assaulted
equally by window-shaking sirens and squall.
The diminutive Sitnycki’s, pogrom refugees, who never
once complained of our boisterous parties, who served us
bublyky with tiny cups of coffee at Christmas.
Phil the artist upstairs and his thousand girl friends,
who caught a whiff of early CAD and hung up his brushes.
Rock critic Roberta, who crowded her daughters in a closet
to cosset neatly catalogued shelves of old LPs and her
husband Steve who started law school at 30 to serve
the poor and played third trumpet in Latin bands on weekends.
The solitary Chinese fellow below us, about whom I will always
wonder, was it my ceaseless loud rotation of Unknown Pleasures
that led him to the roof, where he jumped in broad daylight?
Right there’s where he hit and broke, from 7 floors it seems
you don’t really spatter. (In an hour like a dream’s erasure
people walked the spot as if nothing had happened at all.)
Baby’s born to Lisa and David, Roberta and Steve, boxy rooms
painted over in pink and blue. On that roof I sword-fought
with a chubby-cheeked toddler who plays bass now for his mom
as she sings at clubs from here to Montreaux, her marriage
like ours, long gone. George — still a friend to us both – who
took in Jim, gaunt and frantic, made a bed on which to lie
and rail against the dying of the light, when his family
wouldn’t have him.
How many odd hours I sat in this chair after midnight shifts
downtown, had challah French toast and bottomless Joe
and scratched out lines like these, like all the failed poets
online. Infected by glimpses of gods in the flesh –
grey-bearded Ginsberg in the lavatory at the Ukrainian
National Hall, gaunt Burroughs on Lafayette in that raincoat
and fedora, Richards slinking into a cab on Delancey.
We always waved to Joey Ramone stalking out of his place
in the new building on our block, tried not
to stare at Warhol, who stared right back.
It’s always the same, I’m sure. We wash up here by
the thousands, asift in a miner’s sluice.
We jostle, make friends, connive and share.
Most of us fall through, a few – the nuggets – shine.
At the time it seemed it was brilliance that mattered,
how far can the grasshopper leap? But the lesson
instead is to join that ant-like march to the train, day
after day, apply ass to chair, as they say. That’s
what the city rewards. Or sometimes, with that, audacity.
The sort of thing that led that sculptor
to pincushion himself with fish hooks hung from
a clothesline to be wretchedly tugged through
the air above 9th right there? How did this differ
from the neighborhood bum who wore a tower of hats,
a wardrobe of jackets, a pillow of socks, and jabbered
all day exactly like us cellphone minions now?
These are the things I’d consider at Veselka as
shadow sank down the walls. Try to decipher
some code, make no headway, ask for more Joe.
And where are we now, compadres? Of 2, 3 decades past?
You Midwestern poet run sites for minor league baseball.
You SF buff from William & Mary a new book on the way.
You junior editor (always a stack on your lap) hold the corner
office atop that building, one of the peaks midtown. Alison &
Buster, your ashes feed the flora of the Brooklyn
Botanical Garden; yours John Montauk tuna; yours
Christiaan the oaks of Esplanade Ave. AY
Mellencamp’s lead guitar; Nick Hanks’ pal in
flick after flick. Katy the laureate of the piedmont and
scourge of the Repugs. Donna in the Pacific Northwest
running your own small-town theatre. Here! Here!
Old pals, what time and effort can do! Scott in Atlanta
pulling young black actors along by the collar. George
walking the Brooklyn Bridge each day in a tie to
calculate our odds. Mattie a Hip Pipp, a Trash Maverick,
a Synnz, playing that Junior to death on Friday nights.
Your X Lynn – whom you met in our place upstairs –
actress turned Jersey masseuse (with roles
from time to time in the local theatre shows). Me?
I stood on that rooftop one summer evening of a day
like this (right where the Chinese man leaped), and
spread my arms and laughed in rue, “You have beaten
me. I salute you. It’s been fun.” Then tunneled
out of the place. My school, my family,
my prison and hell. To make it, if not
anywhere, than some(no)where?
This was all long ago. Before 9/11.
Before Sandy and Momofuku and Bloomberg.
Was Jeter a rookie that year? Back when
bombing a subway car meant spray-
painting your tag on its side.
Everyone here has a personal New York,
that geezer at the chess set in Tompkins Square,
the girl in pig-tails herding pigeons.
Mine still hung sides of beef
outdoors where Google rules.
Ran racks of dresses up 21st.
Wired squats in East Side slums. I was
here the week all the IBM Selectric’s
hit the streets, filling dumpsters
all over midtown. I remember
the city-wide blare of car horns
when that baseball dribbled
legs. And a street ankle-deep
in firecrackers on the Fifth.
I too had an agent, for awhile.
Dreamed I ran naked up 5th.
Back now this morning at Veselka
where the coffee cups are the same.
A tourist, now, I guess. Washed up
on the bank, agog at the flow. But
toeing out timid with ruminant chews
of challah french toast like you said
young man — who danced in evening dress
in the Plaza Fountain — beat on beat on
against the current and this town’s endless
proffer of more.
2 thoughts on “Challah French Toast at Veselka – poem”
And for a short time, I too was back in the bitter sweet brew of NYC. Thanks, Tony for capturing it so well. Funny how “making it” meant so little back then…could be contained in such a small box…such a small idea. And now? You haven’t “made it”…you have become it!
Thanks Amy — could go on for pages in all these memories, eh?