Timescape: Grand Street Illusion

Timescape: Grand Street Illusion

I don't believe in ghosts

On the sidewalk, out in daylight

Being alive like the rest of us

Walking around with our needs

Memories, then a boy runs away from

His sister and for a moment

He is my brother's ghost

An unexpected beckoning

To the way we used to live


We used to live

Here, wild urchins in captivity. We ran

Often but we didn't escape. We didn't


Know there were parallel worlds

To the one we lived in

Where a pot of geranium

Is always behind the window's

Iron bars, where someone is

Always contemplating


The vagaries of freedom

While hanging the wash

On the line across

The tenement courtyard

Or smoking under the stairwell

Awaiting the all clear

Signal for flight


There's a certain splendor

In his gait when he runs

That I almost reach out

My hand to see if he's

Ethereal and not

Just my imagination

Or sunlight tricks


The sister calls for him to stop

But he doesn't, he sprints

Against the red flashing

Stop light across

Ludlow and misses a Corolla

By this much alarming

The sister to tears.  I want to

Reach out to stop him


But he is not

My brother. My brother

Who must be walking

Right now somewhere

Upstate, the green leaves

Rustling above him and he

Delivering the mail, letters


Slipped in small secret boxes

Unreadable, reliving

Moments of little gladness

Thinking about his guns

Or his wife who had a vision

Of the Virgin last year

By the house built

For someone else

For another purpose


And what is any holy

Sighting but caged phantoms

Looking to unshackle

Their solitude, retracing

Each step lost in isolation?


I almost hold out my hand

To see if he recalls

The feel of it holding his

That one time crossing

The Allen Street divider


But the ghost who is

Not my brother fades

Into a cracked wall

Of an ancient fortress

In a parallel dimension

Where the jailer warns

"Stop or I'll shoot!"

When what he really means

Is "don't go, don't leave

Me here all alone."


Even though the prisoner doesn't

Stop running he never does

Escape at the end.


Butter for Use

People often laugh at my comic stories

of poverty in the squatters' village,

as refugee and illegal immigrant before

I was nine. Mostly, though, they're nostalgic for


me, for the long way I've come, as if I were

a runner who'd tripped at the start but came in

second.  I can see the image they've cooked

up, romantic and satisfying to see me


at their table, on their lawn, by the seaside

in the sunset, tan and healthy. At last.

Like a feel-good movie. Like a beacon of hope.

To hammer in Ragged Dick's cliche, I throw in


details of tropical misery - tuberculosis and intestinal

worms form chewed and spitted sugar canes, insects

in the apple, tin roof over mud floor,

colonial cruelty and municipal alms.


But away from the rapt audience, when I return

to myself, when I'm alone, I'm never hungry

for those days of waiting in line


every week for that government butter,

useless tubs of British charity

on which my family sat while we strung up


pearl necklaces, copper beads between tin seeds,

plastic bouquets, each leaf crowned by lime green fern

in our public housing, our one room life.


Although we steamed with water and fried with oil,

I collected the vats all the Tuesdays, stacked them up,

stood on them to reach for rice or climb to bed

and that was what butter looked like, what it was used for


until age thirteen I got into Avenue U Theatre's 70 cents

Wednesday double-feature of Carnal Knowledge

and Last Tango in Paris, when Marlon Brando

by then hysterical and numbed by want,


besieged by riddles of rose and rage

directed Marie Schneider how to cut

her nail and use that stick of butter


so he might cross over that abyss of disgrace

to feed on the finger of retribution.

Maybe like him, it's too late and I'm too far


gone to accept the better moment

without dragging in the shame, to forget

what we were like once or take to heart


the plenty manifest: Cote du Rhone,

Champagne cocktail, steak au poivre,

quiche Lorraine, rosemary infused olive

oil in which to dip the artisanal loaf.


Unlike him though, I recognize

the moment when it's enough

deliverance to stand by myself


in a quiet morning, in an empty kitchen

and spread the butter on toast

like everyone else.