Big City, Little

New York

Big City, Lit
Nicholas Johnson

An Arrogance of Windows
Jay Chollick

Inventing Nations
D. Nurkse

i see them, i donít see them
Angelo Verga

A Viewer's Guide to Hell
by Marc Desmond (1945 - February 2001)

As You Like It
by Marc Desmond

Returning from Hell's Kitchen
Ravi Shankar

Big City, Lit
Nicholas Johnson

Itís more than a long, dark road. Youíre in your car, with everything you need in the glove box, back seat, trunk. Youíve got your smoke, thereís the fog, and some rain, and more fog, and thoughts of searchlights.

Maybe thereís someone beside you--or there will be--for who knows for how long. A guy thing maybe: a city, a woman, warm coffee, more smokes.

Stations drift in and out in the sing-along tease 'til youíve had enough of the night, the absolute black Van Gogh claimed didnít exist. All the tricks, like in a Dylan song, play by the roadside shoulders.

Itís what you want: not exactly lost, not exactly knowing where you are, but full of the importance of being elsewhere, speeding toward. 

And so you drive on, grateful for the dashboard, steering wheel in your hands, strings of mileposts, tiny reflectors, whatís left of the white lines, rarities the more traveled, rained on.

Smoke, fog, smudge of light on the horizon: The City, allegory-big. You on the way, bridge-buzzed, highway-wired, everything within reach, toward the light, the place where "symbol is the thing itself."
 
 

An Arrogance of Windows
Jay Chollick

Despite the knotted rising 
of the slopes, up to their peaks 
they seem to me, these Catskills,
the emphatic stone Taconic,
to shrivel, sink into their dwarf beginnings
or fade; the Adirondacks fade.

And cities too, the feeble
minor neighborhood Poughkeepsie--blah, 
and Utica, and that Kodak town, 
the huddled orchards, they all seem pallid now; 
but just to me, for I am Southeast to my 
haughty city tip--Iím the New York!
And all else--inconsequential meandering
Niagara-nothing rest of it--I blow away.

I am an arrogance of windows: NYC.
I measure worth by length of shadow.
I breathe bellowing, airshaft of the lung.
Sky-scribbled, I am misery and predator, 
a homeless box. Iím easy breezy wonderful, I 
am a Jew--third finger up!

And Albany, that oneís for you.
 
 

Inventing Nations
D. Nurkse

My grandmotherís flesh has grown luminous,
cloudy behind her nylon housecoat.
Since her treatments, she can keep down
only jello, sherry, and whipped cream.
She stays up all night watching old movies:
sometimes she loses her temper, turns off the sound,
and hexes the characters in a language
no one in this city has heard of: by day
she stares at the Narrows framed in her window.
She can no longer identify the flags of freighters
and asks me to, but strain as I may
my vision blurs, and she insists, so I wind up
inventing nations: Liguria, Phoenicia,
Babylonia . . . and she nods. On her wall
Kennedy faces Truman but thereís no picture
of the child dead of consumption
or the child dead of hunger
or the child who was my father
who succeeded, whose heart failed:
all there is from that world is a locket 
showing the infant Mozart playing silence
on a tiny clavichord, behind cracked glass.

(Prior publ. Voices over Water (Four Way Books), a collection by the author.)
 
 

i see them, i donít see them
Angelo Verga

i donít see them, the bearded men
the men who sit, knees tucked in
sneakers on wet midtown street
i donít see them, waiting
to be fed, hundreds of them
many black, some whites
most young and thin,
a few gray women
i donít see them
waiting for the bread
the meat, the lettuce,
mustard tomato
at 7 a.m., the breakfast meal
the Franciscan Friars give them
the giant coffee urn at the other end
where they squat and drink and eat
or hide the napkin-covered treasure
for later. i donít see them
the crusty-skinned, the matted-haired.
i see the smooth-legged, no split-ends
women on their way to work
rushing across the street. i see them.
they donít smell, they donít spit.
i pray to them:
i beg for what i need.

(Prior publ. The Six O'Clock News (Wind Publications), a collection by the author.)

A Viewer's Guide to Hell
by Marc Desmond (1945 - February 2001)
 

first canto

we will begin right
here at the designated end
of cloning the release
of complex molecules in-
to the worn-out atmosphere
that claws its way into the heart
of our cravings
i would go to hell
for you but i am in hell
already steeped in the blood
of stones drinking
the odor of grape leaves on the breat
of those whose only sin is not
to be connected to be excluded
from the best clubs they fake unconcern
until change raises itself
from the mat and hiccups its last
defiance at a creamcheese universe
i wander through the tiers of evil
acts trailing after your feet
and powdering your head so much
now depends on what we breathe
so much of what we see how fast
we talk whether we will go
to prison for not putting stickers on
the eyes of addicts to convince the unashamed
that we are all sane here that nobody
who hurt us really matters any more
i sink into the company
of people who believe that
unemployment creates jobs and
that superman wears baggy tights
and a cape that flows down his chest
and into his legendary crotch you are carried
past me by
drug-addled waitresses your thighs are dusted
with silver and yet you know everything
and here the gregorian boys roll
dice for your fate by the light of
the dancing goddess flat-paneled on-
to the inside of the left rear annex
of your new expanded soul
cementing your identity in a parade
of staggered neural pathways
the wind is moved to sing
antic wordless tunes all around me
as colors take shape and the years
taunt their progenitors with arch references
to the fact that once it was just like this
only better
that is my personal hell
and i bail out on it for a night
and a night swimming in clouds
while traces are laid on faces and swell voices
swell to the firmament and this is it boy
here at the dead end of time i will find
out where i fit by measuring myself
against measurements and firmaments
and the one whose name may not be
alluded to even the consonants
the holiest of holies the mask of death
on the velvet skin of life courted by
the messengers of those who hide
their scowling faces like vampires
behind a breach in the laws of nature
and envy those who are merely
and silently
dead
 
 

second canto

there is an awful precision to the lives of
the dead to the least of their movements
they are always and heedlessly dead
writhing at the foot of hadesí throne
waiting to be relieved by the next rotation of
adaptable sin in a changing world
perfection is a threat it stands solid
and reflects all movement
toward convenience as the brutal fraud
it is perfection
must be engorged with passion seduced
into dragging out its old dance-
floor moves and flashing
its naked belly at the predators
who bait their thorns with wisdom
and yet perfection will mire you in hell
only passion will bring you out again
there are password places
here circles beyond circles
that only virgil and the cleaners know there
i will see you glowing silver in the glare
of dead eyes witnessing the death
of discipline and the malleability of love
here you will writhe on naked ground
while your legend pushes
on ahead of you and leaves
you closeted with the muse
alone
among multitudes
 
 

third canto

some of these places are ordinary
places where every mouth and
every cunt is filled with ashes
blocking the customs that once passed
on happiness from generation to
regeneration in a rarefied party
atmosphere choking on a hummock
and going down
down
down past countless identical phrases
masquerading as here
and now i am suspended
greedy for form passionate
for meaning for all the things
i left behind when i followed you
to the nether regions of worship
staring and sighing at the merest
happiness i never felt
they are always pretending here
that it is eternity stretched out
over a framework
of song but i know that eternity
is the recollection of your eyes
all over mine of bodies caressing
like hands it is the path you tread
from the grave to my heart and
relentlessly back again blinding me
to happiness in no time at all
you rip out of me the shuddering
admission that yes i mind not
being touched by you yes i mind
being a coward yes i envy my nostrils
the lingering scent of you i envy
my fingertips those last flecks
of silver and kohl i envy my own memory
hell is knowing your sadness
hell is my faithless eyes my hands of smoothest glass
hell is everywhere you are not
 
 

epilogue: the death of orpheus

time is the hardest labor of all
lifting each second into place
while i remember the simple dance
of skin on skin the catch in your voice
tangled with mine the lightness i never felt
the love you planted in shade your spiderweb
palm lace kissing lace the touch
of faded petals rustling
for a long time now everything
has seemed normal the air is warm
and gelid a globe of burning gas crawls
across the image of a sky projected
by our desire for simplicity walls ripple
and drool acid art becomes weary and repetitive
just like home
i have spent a piece of silver
for each year since i left you behind and
now the age of silver is almost gone gold
howls past me into your dead ears and i receive
a blessing in many colors even as i think
claws mark my road they involve me
in hue and texture they tear
the shroud so i can see time from
the bottom up they carve me into
instances of being and i am everywhere
like the quantum stones that protect me
from gravity until i look down
and there you are
gone
forever
 

As You Like It
by Marc Desmond

72% of the people in our focus
groups thought this would be a good
first line for a poem
satires on commercialism
polled very well in the shabbier
areas of our major cities
through extensive field
testing and much heartbreak,
i finally came to the
realization that 76% of slam
audiences and a full 89%
of slam judges react positively
to dramatic personal narrative
frequent references to my hot
throbbing cock burying itself
thirstily in the hot juicy cunt
of some hot naked barely
pubescent huge-breasted female
poet attracts male poetry consumers
in the highly desirable
18- to 34-year-old demographic
the imperialist running dogs
who conducted my research have
informed me that the inclusion
of marxist rhetoric in my poetry
will increase sales by more than
a third among college-educated readers
the attention span of poetry
audiences in the mtv generation has
declined by 47% over the past ten
years so this will be the next-
to-the-last stanza of my poem
thank you for listening my
chapbook is on sale
in the lobby a coupon for
a free frappuccino at starbucks
comes with every purchase
 

(A New York poet and member of The Rogue Scholars troupe, Marc Desmond died suddenly in February, 2001. Memorial readings for him were held on February 17 at the 37th Street Theatre and on February 25 at ABC-NoRio. A permanent memorial has been created featuring this poem on mp3 on http://www.poetz.com/marcdesmond.)
 
 

Returning from Hell's Kitchen
Ravi Shankar

Now that the gargoyles have oxidized,
Skyscraper stalks sprout lenticular panes.
Another rush-hour overpowers the hush
Or such ambient din as passes for silence
In the self-proclaimed center of the world.

Underground, trains groan into stations
To be filled with eyes that never marry,
Toothless mouths that occasionally break
Into songs about joy in the face of loss,
The rhythm section a few coins in a cup,

The rest all pleats and loosened ties,
Various gears unscrewed from labor's
Leviathan watch. Simple not to muse
When in transit: people board, disembark,
And instantly, the space they leave is filled.

(Ravi Shankar is the editor of Drunken Boat,
www.drunkenboat.com)