I’m sitting on the 7 train, penciling amoebas, mocking up
a print set called ‘Three Worlds.’ Above me, sleepy Iowans
drift past parked cars by the Navy recruiting booth
under a spiral of stars, where three roads meet.
There are no car bombs now, nor happy carolers
from Les Miserables, nor soldiers’ families here
to spread the word of an end to fires in Najaf.
Here is the fish lung of the city, where Yoko Ono
charges us to hide till everyone forgets-- nearby
the Odditorium, the Lion King in moonlight.
My daughter’s totally clocked out as an usher
at the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit, and I smile
to remember our high hike in the Judean Hills,
listening for Moses and Aaron. On Broadway
you can buy anything: rifles, rice wine, rigatoni.
An afterglow where Hamilton was musket-balled
by Burr, tugs shunting a barge into icy whitecaps,
the sun coming up over the Big Duck of Flanders
in shadows of Shinnecocks oystering North Sea.
Today I‘ll travel the ends of the earth, as beside me
on the train a Sri Lankan youth reads Nietzsche.
Underground reliefs chart epochs of the Eocene,
a sea of sewers, an Ethernet, mud-caked reservoirs where
I’m pushed along in a throng of commuters who think
the key to work is aftermath. A million jobs are waiting
for those who see beyond the tickertape to a stranded
ovenbird, fashioning a nest by the public library at dawn.
Beneath the trellised gardens, a trove of paper
and papyrus, from Gilgamesh and Sappho,
to Lyle the Crocodile and Go, Dog, Go!,
The Flowers of St. Francis to speak to crows,
a Red Book Guide to Queens, and every tale
by Coetzee cutting a swath of fury through
an easy noontime brunch. My lighthouse,
library of Alexandria, I love you like a lamb,
your cabinets of curiosity without doors.
It’s here I can sleep away time’s tapping,
where Teepee Town once sold Pawnee souvenirs,
crowds mobbed automats, and the Helping
Hand for Men doled out party horns on New Year’s.
We shoot from Tenderloin towards Court Square,
me leaving the catacombs with a folio on Chad.
Battling traffic, Twitter, truth, and irony, I try to catalog
cacophony before it scatters into dust, like a rusted
Redstone rocket in an atrium of acorns, an Internet
of things: a Bulova pocket watch, a lilac necktie,
a farmer’s almanac, a music box, a cricket in a cage.
All this is our Grand Central, a tribute to Palladio,
pigswill, Nick Cave, a parliament of fools, a teething
one-year old, teeny turtles, a keeper of the rocks,
Red Deer Cave People, warriors back from Thebes.
On Platform 47, a man drones fugues of Schubert.
A glass barrette up track emits a smell of diesel.
Remember the backlit Kodak Colorama under stars?
No Cadillacs or smiles, but a plain of jars in Laos,
a forest of elms, endless, desiccated palms, Ford’s
cottages under an exquisite Rio sunset. Now I’m
Mercury, slayer of Argos, a god of traffic, thieves,
temptation, and toy trucks, lost in a maze of foot
and hoof, commuters queuing for a 7:42 express,
compositors crowding Bolivar Tobacco, goshawks
nesting in eaves above the Daily News. With a sudden
lurch, our local pitches into the river of forgetfulness.
Vernon - Jackson Avenues
Cars lurch up out of the Steinway tunnel, screeching
to a halt at Café Henri, by a stand of elms at the mouth
of the Newtown Creek, where feral cats in cubbies
dream of Annapurna fires along a lake. We notice
the carcass of a lorry reeking of peanut oil and piss,
dry oats and red cargo rice on barges buffeting wind.
On the train, Oaxaca mariachis thumb-pick Cielito Lindo,
Bulgarians pass flash cards, muttering rebellious oaths.
Lovers nestle in the car’s corner, dreaming of Baucis
and Philemon, a tale of a goose spared, a metamorphosis,
an oak and linden intertwined amidst a god’s rebuke.
A nature walk uncovers petroglyphs, a philosophy
of sky, a ton of frozen orange concentrate set by.
We watch a sludge boat hug the coast, a dolphin,
lost her compass, bumping her bottlenose upriver.
We stop for tea, a girl in frog boots doodling,
make out Kwangmyŏngsŏng-3 (Bright Lode Star),
a satellite best seen from the Korean DMZ, where
Manchurian cranes and ibex lurk. Midtown Tunnel
paper wasps, a water tower boasting Save the Palestine.
We pass as the Pulaski drawbridge opens for a fireboat.
We strap hang in the fastest-growing borough of New York,
from Burnt Mill Hill and kettle ponds to Arbitration Rock,
intent on our devices, secret purposes, a willingness to cry,
finding in a golden circle of the 7 train, as it veers past P.S. 1,
twin condo towers, an old charcuterie, our origins in gin,
a tapestry of churchyards, and gurgling Sunswick Creek.
We see shadows of thousand-windowed Sunshine Biscuits,
Swingline Staples, armature for Breyer’s Ice Cream’s leaf,
billboards shifting into entropy, ornament, innovation.
We smell the Tom Cat Bakery, the miracle birth
of each loaf of rye, every hand-me-down cupcake
and nut croissant a plan for an end to hunger.
We see cantilever trusses of the bridge of flowers,
imagine hi-rise butterfly farms of 2045, eked out
of back-lot snap peas, with hydroponic watercress,
Kuri cattle, cabbage, carrots, kale, and kelp.
We hear of ships called Cherokee, Adriatic,
bound for seal pup slaughter in Arctic tundra.
We thirty pilgrims meet to ride the circle train,
pass Five Pointz graffiti art and grist, with none
of the blight of Collect Pond across the river.
At Court Square we stop to take in artists’ lofts,
in mine ten panels with names of streets in Queens:
Palermo Street, Farmers Boulevard, Utopia Parkway,
Linnaeus Place, Normal Road, and Court Marie.
We pilgrims listen to bits of the 167 tongues
that are spoken here, asking for alms, excusing a lie,
begging pardon, professing a lifelong passion.
We overhear a plaintive dream, where a boy
goes hunting for Ice Age rocks, discovering
a granite outcrop at Twelfth and 43rd, on which
teeters a dinged-up Mustang with no windshield.
At fishing shoals where Mispat squaws would seine
for shad and sturgeon, I kayak out on Arbor Day,
keel over into river muck, squelch over bones
of my ancestors, like Eliphalet Nott, a land-grabbing
cleric who turned a shoreline into gold, sold off
lots to rum distilleries and distributors of caulk.
Starfish creep by dockside carts of oranges:
at Court Square we pause to breathe, unsure
what a hundred Tokyo scribblers are up to, as we
jag and jolt from one side of the world to the other.
Our Auckland anesthesiologist sucks icy, bottled water,
musing on the death of distance and a giant Jet Blue sign.
Across the platform from where we pilgrims congregate,
a bride in gowns the color of a rock dove takes photos
for an abuelo in Honduras, of factory floors that turned out
horse-drawn carriages, Rolls-Royce cars, and fighter planes.
Below by bike lanes, an army of yellow tulips, a long-gone
petrol pump, the arc of Q train bending towards Astoria.
A bulldozer claws in a borrow pit for another Quality Inn,
wild parrots perch in a canopy of oaks over public housing,
and hawkers mob the Ed Koch Bridge after Hurricane Sandy.
Some of our crew sit sipping beer, like three philosophers,
say nothing and think of islands in the moon, marveling at
why good works won’t bring fame, till a Bombardier arrives
and we renew our journey to the east, our speech borne
into winds of Aeolus, high heels catching at concrete slabs
on an upper tier. Two pilgrims, a Catalan composer,
a Hollis cop, take turns nagging the urban archaeologist
as he’s undercharged us for this whirlwind, five-hour tour.
We settle up, relax, make our way towards Aviation High.
Signs read in Turkish, Urdu, but coffee smells hint Abyssinia.
33rd Street - Rawson Street
We go down through an ornate viaduct, attuned to traffic
on the Boulevard of Death, a Harley headed for Aqueduct
spews enough exhaust for my yearly carbon footprint.
We sense the dun-colored crack of a G-sharp note
that flutters from a Sunnyside window where a child
saws away at mazurkas of Scriabin. At the high school,
teens crank up a Cessna Mescalero for a senior project.
We fall into single file past Sugar Land and a botanica
to reach Padraigh Connolly’s Dog and Duck, for a burger
and a black and tan before we enter a bamboo grove.
The HVAC expert and his wife, a curator at MOMA,
joke with our urban archaeologist (with a career
lying in ruins), as he breaks sticks for a staff, leads us
to blueberry underbrush, black locust, trees-of-heaven.
We climb to Brooklyn Grange, a rooftop coop known
for its red lettuce, beets, its wide-sky panoramic view.
On Skillman Avenue, magnolias burst in one-day bloom,
where a truck of black bananas stalls, dishes clattering
to the tiles in a patio apartment that we may never see.
40th Street - Lowery Street
We pass through a station without stopping, famous
for its weed walk, where burdock, spurge, mulberry,
and lungwort are found in grassy lots at Macdonald’s,
where a pre-war wrestling arena stood when Ronnie,
our librarian, was seventeen, preparing for a prom.
Our attention is fixed inwards, to where engineers
plot revolution on Roosevelt Island as a pinnacle
of nano-everything. Shift workers in orange vests, pile
drivers, drills for track repair in hand, dream of crabs
under bridges in Duluth. A monk chats with a masseuse,
as strangers do, as questions come: on 9/11, where were you?
One of us was in the towers, a yogi off in seventh heaven,
a mother glued to a rotary phone, connected to nothing.
Our cartoonist ran towards flames as a wave of people
poured north, but now she eyes the territory of our car
to gather sketches: the rape of Europa, the rout of Job,
a paradise lost, a daughter prodigal, a copyist under
fire, a skeptic’s education, seen in these careworn faces.
Mets fans chatter their way to an opening double header,
seamstresses read El Diario, the China Press, The Irish Echo.
At two, we rush on haltingly towards wolves in Forest Park.
46th Street - Bliss Street
Our African accountant says he’s never been to Woodside,
adding that it feels like dormitory towns near Accra,
with textiles, plywood, processed foods, and cocoa,
all but cricket fields, ant hills, and Gold Coast ocean.
We walk beyond a promenade to New Calvary, where
100,000 dead exhumed were ferried here, re-buried,
making way for Gilded Age machine tools, locomotives,
steam pumps, oil magnates, brownstones, new arrivals.
Our Bayside vet says there’re more dead than living here.
Can they speak? Do they see contours of a modern city?
We walk to a stile from Louis Ruhe’s Wild Animal Farm,
what’s left of an exotic wildlife stopover, for vaccinations
of American imports before they’re crated up for Barnum
and Bailey, for the burgeoning world of circuses and zoos.
Pythons, rhinos, Russian bears, wild boars, and Hashish
the camel, brought for Coney Island’s ‘Streets of Cairo,’
tiny tapirs, a pyramid of Pomeranians and a talking crow.
We’re undone by wonder, violence, the greed and pillage
of our bountiful land of electric trains we call global village.
52nd Street - Lincoln Avenue
Thomas Merton would say we have to climb up Difficulty Hill
to get to the City of God, to find nirvana in branches of an oak
where an opossum’s been stuck for an hour, gathering quite
a crowd of onlookers under an el train at Lincoln Avenue.
It’s a giant mouse, shouts a guy from Santo Domingo, a little tot
whipping out his slingshot to try and coax her down.
Birders gaze at the gasping clump of fur, forgetting
they were pin-pointing an oriole atop a chain link fence.
Traffic reaches standstill at this tableaux, at lindens
scorched by autumn winds, our troupe of pilgrims ogling
two mashed Subarus under the chain-sawed trunks.
Probably there are snakes below that drainage pit, we hear,
for sure not a Loch Ness monster, but maybe a nest of vipers.
Benign neglect, burning cold, and mindless thinking:
we’re tired, we want to sleep on a rock at Roosevelt.
But we sit in sphagnum moss and count our nickels
for the never-ending fare, for Indonesian noodles,
Mykonos kebab, Manila sweetmeats, Bieżuń blinis,
Delhi curry, Guadalajara tacos with lime and jalapeño.
We meet later at 52nd Street to trade notes on travel.
Our Chilean actor asks, can we visit the Queens Museum?
61st Street - Woodside
Planes plunge down over this commuter railway - subway stop,
so close you can see the whites of the eyes of a stewardess,
buckled in for landing at LaGuardia. She spies a prison bus
tottering across the bridge to Rikers Island, before that
notes a stack of coffins at the edge of a potter’s field.
Woodside Books just opens its roll top door so kids
can pick out used Nintendos for their trip to Montauk.
This being an express stop, we get out and go down
to Donovan’s pub, steps from where a chestnut stood
for public proclamations from the Revolutionary War.
Rattlesnake springs still trickle runoff in what’s left of
filled-in skunk cabbage swamp, where tow paths met
at an apple orchard, biergarten, a German dance hall.
Today a copper beech stands at bygone trolley stops.
Malay, Mayan, Indian, Peruvian, and Thai take pride
in their back yards, sing ballads of better days ahead.
The old plank road to Maspeth’s sunk, replaced by
the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, limos battering
its pot-holed grid, bent on boxing off in Red Hook.
We re-group at Delgado Travel, pick up the pace
towards Trains Meadow and a land of the rising sun.
69th Street - Fisk Avenue
Nearby is the Hall of Science, where Bjork’s busy
orchestrating humpback whales, where a Gemini capsule
languishes, ready to return to outer atmosphere
and mine the red-rock crater dust on Mars.
I took a photo of my daughter there, the Unisphere
as backdrop, her thoughts a million miles away.
At the 1939 World’s Fair, a trylon stood erect
like my own beloved’s sculptures, a testament
to constructivists who build from the outside in.
Superman was there, and Cal Coolidge’s pygmy
hippo Billy, a talking robot, Vermeer’s Milkmaid,
a rotolactor that could only be for milking cows,
a frozen mole, a girlie show from the lama of Jehol.
Here the U.N. Secretariat held court to partition
the Holy Land, summoning a wisdom of Solomon.
What I admire most is the Philip Guston fresco,
signaling a return to public works, green meet-ups,
peace and understanding, the focus of the next
World’s Fair my family visited when I was seven.
I remember Belgian waffles, a Sinclair brontosaurus,
a discomfort in the car that foreshadowed a divorce.
74th Street - Broadway
In Jackson Heights, bright spot smelling of lemon cardamom,
pony-tailed twins at the E train play wildly on Andean flutes.
We make an .mp4, send it to Barbara’s brother in Berlin,
who, laughing, says he knows them from Kurfurstendamm.
Music travels over time, city, in waves of loneliness or grief.
I take our gathered pilgrims to the Chateau, where gardeners
mulch at African violets and scrap over a pile of dog poop,
presumably from Teddy, a 16-year old whippet, racetrack
survivor, whose bleary eyes are glazed with utter joy.
Some of us try on saris and savor goat in Little India,
peer into a window where you can buy a house in La Paz
a dollar at a time. Farsi poets sit, discussing cosmic wheels
and daily crosswords. We sometimes take a bus from here
to Jamaica Bay to walk and talk-- light rain, vapor trails above,
sodden projects in East New York that beckon a child’s love.
Eider ducks, elf owls, coconut husk washed up in sea wrack.
This is the fourteenth station stop, a sunny Via Dolorosa,
blood-sacrifice coming only from the Columbian cartel.
At Roosevelt and 79th, we cover our ears, a passing truck
so deafening we can’t hear to gather courage to continue.
In Jackson Heights, soccer bars have replaced the lily pads.
for Bruno Swiezinski, 1955-2012
82nd Street - Jackson Heights
We’ve lost three members of our coterie, to chest colds, bunions,
a colicky ten-month old with eyes as blue as agate, but we press on
to Junction Boulevard, recounting our walks to sundry lands
in search of no one can quite say what, from Fuji to Athos
or Rumi’s tomb, Little Sparta, Lourdes, bathing in the Ganges,
making the Hajj to Mecca, to Burning Man or Walden Pond,
to Our Lady of Guadalupe, or maybe to Jefferson’s grave.
And why? We pilgrims think: to learn, to seek, to shout,
undo, caress, to grasp, reframe, begin again, to smile.
Hopkins says it’s a process of un-selving, letting ego go,
listening to chaos, letting words flow. Here I walk most
days to the orchard at St. Marks, where worshippers
intone “ I thirst,” where I start every poem or startle
a feeling into shape of rime ice, icicles, or icebergs.
I stroll to Northern Boulevard, an old carriage road,
to monitor the spire on downtown’s Freedom Tower.
I exult in alphabets of unnecessary things: acrid onions,
bulbous noses, cracked corn, dead eels, elephant tusks,
fish gills, gear-bits, horse dung, jumping rats, open doors,
uninvited guests, woolen underwear, you get the point,
if you at all read English, but I’ve lost my train of thought.
90th Street - Elmhurst Avenue
Known for its Newtown pippins, a Ten Ren Tea shop, Elks Lodge,
Geeta Temple, United Sherpa Church, the neighborhood
is what our Haitian sociologist calls lower middle class,
with aspirations bent on bride price, bocce, bar mitzvah,
dragon boats and Holi, the Hindu festival of colors.
Hoovervilles became a housing blight that festers.
Once Elmhurst gas tanks could be seen from the L.I.E.,
answering the child's eternal cry: Are We There Yet?
From here on in it’s urban zones, dense-packed crowds,
an anathema to William Levitt, the father of suburbia,
whose cookie-cutter Levittowns transformed a nation.
Raccoons, starlings, and the occasional spiny porcupine
straddle a once-green belt between these worlds.
We pilgrims navigate a fragile state, expanding our cities
with bucolic names - Kew Gardens, Briarwood, Pomonok,
masking the underlying stress, the poverty and crime.
Malcolm X lived here with daughters and his wife,
a Lear in agony, living through tempests of civil rights,
his house firebombed in 1965, just before he lost his life.
On the sidewalk, we see a man kneeling at call to prayer.
I’ve drifted into daydream as we barrel out of Elmhurst,
I’m channeling rhythms or guitar riffs from Neil Young
on his Greendale tour, my family sitting on a hillside,
three of us at once loving something together wholly.
Here’s America’s Rift Valley, with a half-sunk house
of worship, a Lares deli, ‘hood hoops, ox-eye daisies.
We amble to the remains of Tiffany’s furnace works
where Lilliputian tea sets mimicked Roman-Syrian
charred glass of opalescent gold and turquoise blue.
Outside a Salumeria, we hear steel drum calypso
at set-back family homes forgotten by a mayor.
Trainspotters come: Lucien, who’s ten, enumerates
car types in Redbird Reef, a coral archipelago
off Slaughter Bay in Delaware, where 7s go to die,
with tanks, armored personnel carriers, barges
and a ton of Firestone tires, its green waters
home to barnacles, horseshoe crabs, and squid.
We meet Olivia, who’s writing of carusi boys
who toiled in sulfur mines in Agrigento, Sicily:
our herpetologist is shocked, says he’ll postpone
his search for the extirpated chorus frog of Queens.
for Dorothy Schmiderer Baker
103rd Street - Corona Plaza
Blocks from Lemon Ice King of Corona, 1965 World’s Fairgrounds,
Brazilian Adventists, and a School of the Transfiguration,
Louis Armstrong lived on a quiet street, with gigs
in Storyville, San Francisco, Quarrybank, Quebec,
Cameroon and the Belgian Congo. His smile, his style,
big heart, and gravelly voice transformed the sound
of jaundice into jazz. He charmed children on his stoop,
Marilyn and JFK, and the King of Thailand (on the sax).
‘Meet Me in Paris’ floods from an upstairs room,
a turntable spinning his sermon on beans and rice.
We sit in the garden as honeysuckle drips, robins
pulling at red worms, all of us taken by a cheery lilt,
as the ghosts of Ellington and Ella are ushered in.
I close my eyes and hear his ‘Melancholy Blues’
as it soars into space with Voyager, with Bach,
shakuhachi, Pondicherry ragas, bagpipes, gamelan,
as well as dog barks, code taps, shots of Pluto,
Jupiter, a nursing mother, a Shasta food store,
a spiral diagram of dancing sperm and ovum.
Reeling off into ether, 100 million miles away,
it’s music of Earth we crave as we journey on.
Baz Luhrmann’s Gatsby is out in theatres, with Leo DiCaprio
as leading man. The 1930s drive from East Egg to the city
meant crossing a Valley of the Ashes, a cinder hill here
for the burning coal, much as Dead Horse Bay recycled
carcasses of mares, as glue, from the city’s livery.
Before we stop, we spy a Matinecock in a beaver hat,
who a lady takes to be Túpac Amaru, King of the Incas,
in town to dispute rebuilding of the Kosciusko Bridge
on elders’ land that once was bogs and fens and brake.
Teamsters, hostlers, potato pickers in from Quogue
loiter by news stands, all eyes on our video guy
who tries to replicate a Dada film about a ride
on the Third Avenue El before it is demolished.
Like Muybridge’s stop-motion studies, it’s subway life
run backwards, inwards, in eerie black and white.
An R62A express speeds by on flyover tracks, a local
shunting off to Corona yards. We sup at Tortilleria
Nixtamal, with masa and red posole from ranches in
Tulcingo, where rodeos, romance, and flower wars
with human sacrifice were once the order of the day.
Tupac’s with us on the train, still seeking his lost spirits.
Mets - Willets Point
This 13-block stretch between Shea and the Flushing River
has no sidewalks or cisterns, but plenty of palsied dogs
just moaning at the setting sun. Car parts, chop shops,
iron works abound in a triangle of puddle muck,
our third world just minutes from the city’s navel.
Bawdy talk, sex shops, pin-ups, pricks who skip on bills.
Two Serbs, Pick-Thank and Zizek, pound hubcaps
into useful life. Junket stinks. The single resident,
a Joseph Ardizzone, like Timon of Athens curses
his detractors as he doesn’t want to move to make
way for more of House of Spices’ store or shopping
scenes that call to mind the Mall of Emirates, with Ski
Dubai, a fireworks’ fountain, a petting zoo. Maybe
a stadium for the next Diego Maradona? A pushcart
rolls off a corrugated roof by a barrel burning trash.
Bodily fluids seep by, yellowlegs wading in the creek.
This is the urban Land of Oddiyana. We don’t get off,
we keep on towards our final destination, Chinatown.
A man points out thinning cirrus clouds beyond what
once were peonies for as far as the eye could see,
today a good spot to detail your Lincoln Continental.
Flushing - Main Street
Now that we’ve reached the end, we don’t know where to go.
We thank our archaeologist, split up to see the Weeping Beech,
beehives in the Botanical Garden, a Seoul patisserie,
and Biang!, a noodle shop from Xi’an province
where we hear of thieves’ tales that Mao adored
from the Shi Hu Chuan, All Men Are Brothers, in the land
of Lao-tse, hundred-year old eggs, and sprouting factory
towns like Sock City, Underwear Village, Necktie Bend.
All roads lead to the site of the Remonstrance, a Quaker
plea to Peter Stuyvesant to halt his ban on silent worship.
We sip tea at an Afghan eatery, where we meet our
final penitent, a soldier just returned from combat.
She recalls an experience of vanishing, and happy
children rolling metal hoops as festive crowds skip
pebbles off a pontoon bridge on the Kabul river.
I sit at dusk by the Amadeus Music School, a bus
stop for the Bronx, and 7 Train Tattoo, musing
on how we survived the Toba human bottleneck
or ended up chasing bats in Flushing, putting a last
pig bristle tip of enamel to my painted street sign,
just as I position a last period to follow this final word.
for Arthur Smith, 1913-1999
Coda 22 - Hudson Yards
We're chatting in Brooklyn's Shakespeare Garden,
listening to a Chinese violin. So far from Queens,
pondering how to adjust my 21, 21-line poem
of the 7 train to a 22nd subway stop
at Hudson Yards, already sprouting out of
old tunnels like aphrodisiacs, baby mushroom
spores and stores of lilies spilt. But it’s
Toshiko Mori's teardrop bud that bursts
from elevated tracks where a Budapest boy
and I used to roam West Side piers, aping
at civic discourse, civil surgeons of the INS
sucking the living daylights out of us, our
late orthogonal thinking: heat maps, 45 m.p.h.
pneumatic tubes for dried-up stallion shit.
All of our politicians leak blood that’s blue,
so it seems if you say something it is true.
It sounds like it’s raining in Cirque de Mafate,
Réunion, so here we are, soaking in late sun
of a bonsai forest, rosemary, where fairy terns
skim by and deliver us gold dust to keep
our amity and love aloft to sleep and breathe.
It would fill a volume, in an age of pamphlets, were I to record all my observations in this great capital of human business and pleasure.
Hawthorne, “The Celestial Railroad”
With looking from the lattice-lights at me,
A poor, tired, wandering singer, singing through
The dark, and leaning up a cypress tree?
Elizabeth Barrett Browning, ‘Sonnets from the Portuguese’
The unnatural, that too is natural.
About the Work
’21 Stations’ evokes lives and music and history along the 21 stations of the 7 train, the 167 languages spoken there, journeying EAST out of the city. This piece formally is a set of 21, 21-line poems, what I call sonnets-and-a-half. It is about the patchwork quilt of culture across Queens as seen in the river of commerce, reflection, and imagination of the 7 train. It features a meditation by Mercury, the god of travel, thieves, temptation, and toy trucks, including two World’s Fairs (red trolley cars now coral reefs for fish and squid in Delaware), shadows of Louis Armstrong, Malcolm X, and porcupines and ibises from Levittown, to Aviation High School, to cobbled lanes for Farsi poets, Italian shoemakers, and temple elders from Tibet.
In 2015 the New York City subway added one more subway stop to the 7 line, at Hudson Yards. My poem was complete and integral at 21 (with 21, 21 line poems, each a sonnet-and-a-half)... now I've added the Coda poem to address what I should do about the addition.
The poem goes on to reflect on Korean car parts men, chop shops, intellectuals, mad urban planners, the history of the demise of the American farmyard (and hints of our Native American ancestry), retooled lives, abuelas from Honduras, lawyers from Indonesia, drummers from Bangladesh, Columbian hair dressers, mobsters, and drag queens, Nepalese shamans, rooftop kale farmers, baby carriage pushing Dads and golf-course gardeners. Thirty pilgrims set out from Times Square to wend their ways to the Weeping Beech in Chinatown, in Flushing, where bats can still be seen in belfries.
Bjork, orchestrating humpback whales
Bride from Honduras
Girl in frog boots
Lucien, ten-year old train-spotter
Poet’s daughter, Charlotte
Soldier, back from Kabul
Sri Lankan youth
Wife, curator at MOMA