Chalk Cliffs on Rügen
Chalk Cliffs on Rügen
We rush across two continents to get here, sunset coming after ten,
green flies glued to every fiber, leaf, and piece of bark and skin.
On the train ride out we pass by blazing rape fields, an all-white
chapel octagon, and old-world beeches towering over man and ant.
Rain comes down in torrents. Our daughter, 21, wakes up bug life
with a spy-cam Harinezumi, back from wandering the Carpathians
near Bucharest. As this is an island off of Germany, paths are
marked for birders and philosophers. The woods breathe Saxon
angst, blowing stench from mainland ports. Danish kids dance
the Pardoner’s Tale, when Death brings revelers a box of coins.
At once, a dark and turmoiled European past gives way to floods
of shining ocean, and I pose the two of you along the frail, steep
cliffs of Caspar David Friedrich, in the long pictorial slant down
to a churning sea, with sight lines in the fog that lead to Malmö.
In Sunset Park
Peach skies wash the Verrazano, with gantry cranes
as far as the eye can see. Saigon sandwich trucks
and Guadalajaran tacos! A mailman, late in his rounds,
and surely overweight, has nothing in his sack. Teens
grease truck wheels, giant drops of rain pelt down on
a colony of harbor seals. Skinfaxi and Hrimfaxi,
horses of Day and Night from Nordic lore, meet on
33rd Street for a bag of oats. A fault in the schist
at Prospect Park leads to rock grottoes in Helsinki.
Reggae ska erupts from a glacier-green town car,
Woodstock ballads skirring the winds pulled in
from Hurricane Bill. A water taxi slows, spurts,
speeds up towards shiny spires of doubt, a waterfall
under the Brooklyn Bridge, our barometer of glee.
On the train to Poughkeepsie, two college girls
can’t sit still, holding forth in Cantonese
for an hour and a half nonstop, defining
the very heart of what happiness is.
Across train tracks, Sing-Sing looms
over dark, churning waters, near where
Poe collapsed in a pool of sea wrack.
Leaves are near peak—in blazon reds and golds—
on this ancient day when the city seems
to have slipped from my memory forever.
At Olafur Eliassen’s Garden
Across the grass from the steel-scrubbed mushroom concert hall,
a chorus of frogs announces spring. Two-dozen golden rain trees
bloom in a green wash from the nearby brackish Hudson River.
You, 21,walk the granite path to the island of All Things,
where a pallet of bottled water and a pickaxe suggest a trek
to view volcanic plumes above an Iceland glacier.
A brown-eyed waif comes, too, to play at Ariel as crow,
in a bit of The Tempest that has no loving Prospero.
At the parliament of rocks (no moat or crocodiles
are needed anymore), you find your world of shade
and hair and ice and sun and stone, where a papa’s hand
just waves from across a body of water, but where we
both see stars in far-flung constellations as they ignite,
one by one, over the gathering dark of Eliassen’s garden.
Photo at Poets Walk Park
I straddle an Adirondack chair in the center of the meadow.
A murmur, a chorus comes up from tufts of spartina grass.
I won’t move from this spot: bluebirds, orioles, drop down
as if through a gash in the gathering rain clouds. We know
that the Milky Way is moving parallel to other galaxies:
our footprints press the spongy bogs and marsh along
the Hudson, where rainbow trout race up rapids. Reedfish,
catfish, killifish head down towards Gulfstream waters.
My girls return with a stray named Shadow, and a stranger
stops to take my camera with two clasped claws, waving,
as if conducting Va, Pensiero at the Berlin Philharmonic,
as if the earth was spilling its molten ore across the field,
with all species of fish, man, and feline following suit, all
singing praises to a dun world on the brink of doom or joy.
On the Ethan Allen
Headed for Rutland or even the icy Hudson Bay
our train lets out a forlorn blast, and rockets up
train tracks through lilac and blue myrtle.
I see a ruined castle of the Rhine, built just so
on purpose, a single cattle egret on the wing,
salt lagoons, Somali pirate motorboats, rabbit
islands near to Oslo, oily marshlands in Iraq.
A flood of dark as we tunnel though a hill
and flash back to flattened cattail riverbanks
below a prison watchtower, two kayakers
in a frenzy at a black silt sandbar. We are
as happy as tippled hostlers on a pilgrimage
to Kent, the sun bent down below Poughkeepsie
as night descends and loons cry out Olana! Olana!
U Thant Island
Cormorants crowd the barnacled rocks on this tiny reef,
where a green, blinking light on Tower 17 wards off
pleasure craft that chum along the river of lost footsteps.
A dented Oneness Arch and scrub oak nursery nurtures
fledglings who will not soar to nearby granite canyons.
A catboat lazily sprites about its northern spit, headed
for Hell Gate and the Hudson. A coal barge, slow as
sludge, plies currents, pushing towards the Upper Bay.
A Coast Guard cutter picks up chatter on the island:
maybe a dream of peace tapped out in the Secretariat,
broadcasting in the 167 tongues of Jackson Heights.
A red flag flaps, alive with electric eels, inviting us
to visit this trolley tunnel rubble hill, a century old, part
of our carbon footprint, the Pepsi-cola Wars to come.
I bike through mornings on my way to the United Nations, where
we work to bulldoze walls in Gaza. South-South cooperation
is everything: indigo Tata cars flooding the roads in Bangalore.
I veer past Pennsylvania Railroad beds, dreaming interior lives
for landfills, laying down my ill-at-ease at the door of a shed
where maps of Long Island flyways crowd the window jambs.
I zip past Harold Tower, Montauk Cutoff, a balloon loop track
with ornate Pullman cars, as drowsy as Thomas and his mates.
The timetable of the 8:01 to Cold Spring Harbor is my hymn:
I scale the cantilevered bridge, a truck lettered TIME goes by,
I coast down Second past Les Sans Culottes, the greenmarkets
of May, hearing Dag Hammarskjold in the wind at my back:
…the road to holiness passes through the world of action…
What joy at 43rd to hear a freight train air horn blast in Sunnyside!
Independence Day, 1995
We amble past the smallpox hospital, sumacs mobbing its blown-out
windows, past the prison stop and tramway cul-de-sac where
hybrid buses make their turnarounds and city elves are launched
to flitter back and forth along the 59th Street Bridge, past hidden
vacuum tubes that suck the island’s trash at 50 miles an hour.
Make the rain pour down, a writer said about the lunatic asylum,
and put the everlasting stove in midst, hot as a witch’s cauldron.
The Twin Towers loom, a beacon for the world of not forgetting.
We bring beach chairs, binoculars, plastic bottles full of Evian.
We climb the dunes and watch as shadows fall over Weeksville.
No Tall Ships, but a maze of nasal jet skis and medicated
teens on Turkish flatboats, doing the Macarena. We listen
to the WPLJ radio simulcast, watch the bombs bursting in air,
and remember Roosevelt’s four freedoms that have got us here.
Running of the Bulls, Pamplona
Each night an E train spews us out at 74th and Roosevelt,
each night the mariachis play Cielito Lindo.
Planes roar over rooftops and nobody notices, crowds
drift in with tacos al pastor, for posters of Ronaldo
at the World Cup soccer store, wary of the shadow
of the moon at Shooter’s Island. A giant plasma
screen airs kerchiefed workers scrambling up
a Roman road in the kingdom of Navarre, gleeful,
petrified, jumping fence posts and pilings,
twisting ankles or kneecaps to avoid what they want
most—a run at the unknown, at crazed and thirsty
steers stampeding towards a bullring, a simple gash
or bloody lip to seal the wound of man and animal,
to re-enact the comedy of the creation of the world.
Invasion of the Body-Snatchers
We’re here for the outdoor movie, by the gantry crane
along the river East of town, with a view of the Twin Towers
a month before they’re taken down by two jet planes
that vaporize their cores. This is the lull before the storm.
Kids on a hogshead raft lazily pole to the Long Island side,
a Moran tug struggles with a barge of iron ore and slag.
The movie starts, gulls engulfing us, up on the screen
and along the oyster bay. Movie music freezes blood,
pus-filled cocoons waking in cracks and catacombs,
women loping through the frozen canyons of D.C.
There’s nowhere for us to go but home when it’s over,
as we search for others who can look us in the eye.
A milkweed pod bursts open as the moon rises over
an opal city, seeds floating up into an unknowable sky.
We walk up Box Street past stray cat chicken coops filled with straw,
looking for Queenie, our neighbor’s Abyssinian. Wild green grapes
climb a chain link fence near sets for Boardwalk Empire. Boat horns
guide us in to Newtown Creek, where a grab dredge stirs up silt.
We see Peerless Importers, the sewage plant you call Hersey’s kisses,
a trail of pearls to 1940s Onderdonck. A lake scow, Lucinda May,
channels bits of scum and filament from an underground lake
of oil that bubbles up towards English Kills. The whole history
of science has been accidents at work as they see fit: time pulling
backwards against your un-hunched shoulders and wistful smile.
The drawbridge opens for a tug with smoke-black canisters,
terns careening in a restless wind. At Jungle Press, lithographs
dance on vellum, cross-hatched flags and dresses and kittens,
to mark a sense of urgency, our love for things that come from nothing.
Landscape with Reclining Buddha
The full moon of December beams over downtown Bangkok.
It‘s Loy Krathong: we float bread boats down the Chao Phraya
for the Goddess of Water, in the name of shadows
of the lost and little princess beauty queens. We take tuk-tuks
to Lumpini Park to watch a play about Ganesha’s birth
and a Burmese film about the zoo in Mandalay.
We take a diesel bus to trek upriver, past terraces of rice,
stork nests, cobras under stilted huts on the canals.
Two kruanch birds in branches of a lime tree:
their bickering is how the Ramayana came to be.
A milky Pomeranian, a golden babbler, a river chat:
no attachment to happiness or sorrow. Burning rubber,
kids with palm-frond pinwheels, fresh fish in banana leaf.
King Bhumibol is seen in every standing puddle.
Gingko nuts, dragon fruit, pagoda trees. Bulletwood,
India cork, queensflower. Plumeria, crown-of-thorns,
and sambar deer. What riches of the tongue to hear!
Our bus breaks down. A woman rocks a baby
in a hammock in the teak. We drink warm Coke.
We spy the giant Buddha, out beyond the hyacinth,
a cur in a hole at his feet. And I swear the Buddha spoke.
In Cairo I walked by the banks of the Nile in the shadow of the pyramids.
Teenage boys swam out to punts that followed the setting sun.
Every car horn honked till nine or ten p.m. but it’s still the quiet
before the storm. No rioters on camels dressed with scimitars,
no peaceful working people, bent on the end of dynasty, in Tahrir Square
we supped on lentil soup with limes and drank Egyptian beer.
A full moon kept watch over the cracked-clay roofs of the city.
I walked by stalls with motor parts, owners’ faces caked with grime.
We talked with Arabs who see a brighter future for the poor.
In the Egyptian Museum, pharaohs stirred and opened up one eye.
We watched the dogs of Cairo as they scratched for fleas.
We swam in an ebony pool that reflected obelisks of dawn.
We watched the sun come up on El Sayeda Street, the home of Ra.
We ate grilled pigeon with our fingers to the sound of flutes,
we drank tea with Sharif in the fight for endless fishing rights.
To drink in the salt-mist ocean
tides of commuters at the turnstile
a pororoka at the verge of sea
bleeding eyes and vows
from cloistered nuns
watching ice caps melt
more polar bears shot
than deaths to global warming
listening to a brother’s stories
fields of bright mustard
at the Baltic shore
The Birds of Guangzhou
Below the White Cloud Mountains and the star-scraped crags,
e-waste boils in a blackened creek that trickles toxins
to the Pearl River Delta and the South China Sea.
Children scrounge for dead-volt batteries at 17 cents
an hour, for motherboards, in pools of lead, cadmium
and copper filaments, their hands tanned by mercury
and strychnine. An avalanche of laptops, diode tubes,
bursts from a freight container where an old man lies,
cradling a green gecko, dreaming of a happy childhood,
of pioneers in Mao caps with Little Red Books, chanting
Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom. Air raid sirens blare
across the busy truck stop where no planes collide.
Instead, a dying flock of brambling finches plummets
from a blue sky to pits of alchemy, poison, and poverty.
I dreamt I sailed across the Sea of Marmara, to red-pine Buyukada,
not far down the hill from the chapel of St. George and French hotels
that once housed children from the Greek expulsion. I’m in the middle
of a movie set with English soldiers and fez-capped Turks
as if it was Gallipoli again. Up in the woods, a murder of crows
is wrestling with how to open mussels on the road.
Packs of scraggly cats stubble the hillside, each one a sentinel
for the individual, the one. There’s not a single car or truck
on the island, while bikes and phaetons with spotted Appaloosas
own the roads. It’s as if Leon Trotsky still was here, lusting
for Frida Kahlo. Lilacs, bay, the fragrant odor of magnolia
from bygone empires. I hear Hikmet reading poems in the wind
as I bushwhack to a hidden beach below the cliffs, where I strip,
dive into the rock weed, and come upon a sea of holothurians.
The great fish Dunkleosteus marsali has landed on the pebble beach
at the Cape of Kursun at the southern tip of one of the Princes’ Islands
in the Sea of Marmara. It’s older than the Byzantines who settled here
when fig trees grew among the quartz. 397 million years ago
it swam the rocky bottoms here to feed on eels and eelgrass,
come up out of a dream of mine to startle us, reminding us
how fragile is the bond of life between a man and man, a woman
and a man, a woman and a woman: Orpheus, orphans, Ottomans,
prisoners, pirates, and privateers, Persians, Greeks, Seljuk Turks,
Azerbaijanis and of course the French and Germans all who love
the donkey carts, the dogs that bark at midnight under Mars,
the cats and catcalls of the ruined Russian Art Nouveau,
they all come here to hear the deep-sea call the great fish makes
along the red-pine beaches of the southern coast of Buyukuda.
In Istanbul, Hakan and I decide to make a documentary, to make the world
a better place, as Allah says in this evening’s green mosque call to prayer.
In a bar called Bird, we eat Turkish ravioli and drink dark beer called Dark.
We storyboard a one-minute advertising spot that people might remember,
on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and how to drain it of its plastic bags.
Beluga whales, spotted grouper, and blue fin tuna all avoid this stretch
in their search for krill and smaller creatures. Beautiful Monika from Pilsen
plays a Green Peace activist who commandeers a launch and team of volunteers
to motor to the center of the vortex where not a single living thing can breathe.
Later we shoot in markets, shops, bazaars, in Marrakesh, Milan, and Marmaris,
Sana’a, San Diego, and Salamanca. We feature rubbish heaps in Beijing,
Beirut, Boston, and the Bosphorous, as well as in Paris and Port-au Prince.
There’s no gunfire, kissing, or illicit sex, just the cheeky model Monika
in an orange life vest with tousled hair on a ship with a giant dredge.