Note: Written in late August 2016.

In the cab slinking round an empty
darkened Union Square after the award show,
he hadn’t ever felt this alone before.

Or maybe he had, long ago, and it was the fact
that this evening and the conditions that led
to it had evoked the worst emotional
exhaustions he kept buried in his chest.

It started in the shower hours before
the show as a howling panic and had now settled
into a general gloom, a yearning to flee
to white Alaskan north because the first
time he knew it, at 17, he definitely
didn’t understand what about the world
was worth running from. Now, at 26,
he knew: all of it.

Who was he three years ago, jotting angry poems
on a subway platform; and four, still in school;
and six, a kid kissing the door of cooldom
to gain its powers via osmosis? And who
was he now, a media dude with credentials
and bylines and all that? Why would he leave
that, or want to? Was it the people here,
the expectation that the destination
would be the happiness unto itself
rather than the added bonus?

The taxi dumps him out at Fulton Street
to trudge into a new day, but not yet.


Note: Written in six parts from December 2012 to March 2013; revised slightly.

Annie on a taxi top
Pigeons at her feet
Even the littlest things
Gotta eat

Flakes of bread
Near flakes of glass
Near whiskey billboard signs
It’s morning in the city
Where they never dim the lights

In muddy tunnels underground
Amid the haunted hallways
Electric slugs creep heavily
With glowing eyes

Eyepatch man beside
a foureyes bookworm
on the rails again
It’s an ocular festival of colour
underground as rats
from Greenpoint to Hoyt
and all the dim-lit grungy plats between

Whether yours are round or square
The universe doesn’t care
The city spins along untouched and prim

A carnival of irises
A circus tent of bulbs
And in November, multitudes of coats

Nervous guy
Flicking an invisible lighter
Jumping out of his tattered skin
When a man accidentally bumps his knee

Twitchy guy
Tweaking guy
Staring into the black abyss of underground movement
And only seeing himself
Left eye buzzing as a house fly
Neck whipping like a fishline
Clutching his cell like a rosary
Gripping his soul as though it were still there

Stop to stop
Platform to platform
He’s a prisoner
Kept caged by a silver rail

Nervous guy
As all the rest
Become the ether
And melt into the grand puddle of metro transfers

The Seventh Avenue Blues
Plucked by Joe Sixstring
On a rusty old axe
Not as sharp as she used to sing

The Blues is the breadth of the station
Softy spun into our ears
By a man in his ragged glory
Dirty jeans and patchy sleeves
Denim heart and heavy head
Pyramid soul and dusty croak

Miles from California
He sings of its gorgeous overnights
Its hazy love storms
Its murderous womb
And dragonslaying in the daylight
To no one

Away from the trees dressed as camouflaged soldiers
Away from the dizzying glee of jacketed skaters
Lightyears below where the brown ground still sprouts seedlings
Where slick rocks rise from the mechanical earth

Inside the bobbing flock of train commuters
again, the air narrows. Blood thickens.
Pressurized atmosphere above
their heads, gritty smears of floor beneath them,
a rising hate for brick and mortar days.
This city burns like a frost among the fishers
who, once great, cracked the ice away from shore.
The ice still pulls tight. It slicks the darkened halls
where these descendants lurch in rail machines
and clip their paws, flip newsprint, endure staring
competitions with their shoes.

The shaggy doowops crinkle their dollars.
The preppy poets button down their collars.
Vagrants seethe and enterprising ones
throat tales of cancerous mothers.
The last great king absconds at Church Avenue.

An empty stage, then came the treacherous rain.
Muddy girl in headband, waterfall red,
buzzes to a buddy re: the lack
of “Sex on Fire.” The washed-out kings had fled
west ahead of Sasquatch. Eyes drift back
to the now soaked amps, electronic ruination.
The message comes: new tour bus in back
but be cool, wait for word. An Austin band.
Arrive quick. Let the beer catch up. Meet Jim
and the driver (Max?), the rest one at a time.
Apatow on TV, pot burned in apples,
odd talk of Lasik. Redhead and me watch
tall eggman torch a bottle rocket outside
in rain as time itself goes inside out.

Five cities in five years. How’d you do it?
Me, I would’ve crumbled after three,
resigned to my fate as a mere lackey
in Cleveland or a rusty equal. But you
stayed restless, fidgeting for trees
and deserts, not stopping until you
got your fill. Took a wife who shares
the corporate wanderlust, and her beat cat
mewed for adventure past an alley piss.
Boston first: the suburbs, ample packies
but more money than comfort. Los Angeles:
Redondo, actually, an azure heaven

with miles of sandy run and no found snow.
Business killed the dream: so off to Tucson,
a dry hell where cacti’s eaten, you once wrote.
Too long in the drought. Then Dallas at last,
once more suburban but at least more space,
a house, new dog, the drive long but won’t kill.
Talk of a baby now, then the reveal:
Robert en route, soon raised a Texas kid.
But once more, the winds picks up. Destination
blooms again — Indianapolis
but not for a year. Twelve months to cozy the sprawl
and one last whiff. The running yields to rest.

My mother, a teacher, kept a cerulean
Rand McNally globe stashed in her classroom:
my first hint at four that sobbing through
a doctor’s trip was chump change to the universe.
Twenty-six now and fumbling oaken chairs
and ceramic busts inside antique
shops, gangly in my way, just to locate
another orb. The right sphere. Eternal
in ultramarine and yelling me to spin,
to pay what I don’t have to recapture
a moment when the planet’s consequence
evoked more than sheer dread and knowing demise.
Now crave meaning, widen the scope — wanted:
a study of a Rand McNally globe.

Miles of fiberoptic cable, and yet:
Can you write a poem without the internet?

Hoofed it through mist early Saturday
past gaudy ad space blinking fizz, displays
of homecoming kings reigning global rap
and bakery giants inking the new map.

The day before, a booming rain crashed here
and we ducked inward, egg rolls and two beers.
Now, hours from the soak, sidewalks hum
a memory of slickness. Bounding from

the hotel in brown boots and a peacoat,
nine o’clock, my mates still dreaming (bloat
of midnight cocktails), I’ve got coins to burn:
sausage sandwich and coffee. Later, I learn

the recipes vary up here, though all the same
to my tongue at the time. Still glad I came.
The clerk grinned as she slid the paper cup
across the counter. I ate that right up

with my sprinkle doughnut. Then back out
to tramp the damp pavement as billboards shout.
Dundas through mist — a feeling I still chase
years later, as memory supplants this place.

Street badges flank the corners on 2nd
an hour from dusk. The choppers line the street
and their captains, barrel-chested black goatees,
fleet the sidewalks like a grunge armada.
Burly men in leather vests and flannel,
tattoos snaking up their wrists, congregate
on the corners with no cops, some in
different colored insignias. The Provenzano
parlor, flush with rivals, transubstantiates:
Jesse the Red Devil laid at the altar
and soldiers from all boroughs worshipping.
After an hour, sun gone, motors roar;
police clear paths, even some hugs. A Passion,
but the Red Devil will not rise again.

No, it couldn’t be, so early this morning
or any morning past 1999:
Owen Hart boarding the train at High Street.

Not quite him, too lean, with hair too dark,
but squint and you’ll see the profile
of the prickly villain who loved the jeers.

Gaze deeper now, the image clarifies:
his in-ring impeccable, his heart pure,
his pedigree the best, his fall a travesty.

I look away, realizing I’ve been staring
for minutes now, but hard to shake that ghost:
Owen and my childhood, both busted open.

The first R-rated film I saw in theaters
was Superbad. I went with three friends in August
2007, a month before our last
run as high-schoolers began. It leapt
off the screen, the richness and the dick
jokes speaking to me, validating
my entire 17 years up to that point.
Near the end, when Michael Cera’s Evan
enters the bedroom with his childhood crush
but doesn’t sleep with her despite her offers,
my two friends agreed: He was a pussy,
but they wouldn’t have been. They would’ve fucked her,
drunk or not. The third and I, romantics,
fought back: Would they really want it that way?
I shouldn’t remember this. It has no bearing
on how I live my life a decade later,
except when it does. The third and I still speak,
not enough of course, but the other two
have fallen to ghosts in me — not just because
their admissions at a juvenile sex comedy,
but life reasons. Geography. People grow
like branches splitting away from their source roots
to bud in different ways, to seed and to die,
but some sprout closer together, pals on the bark:
a pair of dumb-eyed buddies at a show.