The sidewalks are wobbling in the god-awful heat.
Ninety-eight in the shade,
Where there is shade, as New York lies locked under
Layers of high pressure
That trap the thick atmosphere (ozone, exhaust, smog
Drifted over from Jersey,
Infernal dampness: “It’s not the heat, it’s the whatchamacallit,”
Said a fat girl in the elevator,
Too hot or too humid to get a grip on her clichés),
Clapping it over your face:
Today, Independence Day, on the verge of moving to the burbs
(7 rms, 2 bths, occ. negotiable),
I walk to the window (how the black dust seeps in!) and look
Upon the city I am losing;
Lines for everything, jack-hammers, crime, garbage,
Rent out the whazoo,
Air pollution, noise pollution, rush-hour traffic, dope,
Payola, beautiful people,
Bag people, a new disease every day, cyclical poverty.
Mayor Koch (yech),
Donald Trump (yech, yech), Leona Helmsley (STOP!):
Why even Sandy McClatchy,
Who, let’s face it, is a man at pains to appear urbane,
When he got back last time
Said this town seems more and more like Calcutta,
So why, can you tell me,
After ten years of such dreck should I be sorry to go?
I mean, should I care?
Because, excuse me, fresh bagels all by themselves
Can’t make up for it all,
Not even from H & H World’s Best Bagels, where the sign says
“You’ll Be in Heaven-Share Them!!!”
(O.k.: oh to be standing in the March A.M. with a hot bagel
In your hand, its soft flesh
Yielding to your fingers and the steam rising into your face…
Mmmm, make mine with raisins).
But today, Independence Day, as a huge, hazy, orange sun
Sets over the Bayonne swamps
Like an industrial disaster, like gas flaring over an oil field,
Why give a second thought,
Can you tell me please, to the notion of kissing goodbye
Cabbies who know everything
And got off the boat just last week? of leaving behind
Cops with that big-city attitude
And that high school education? of bidding a final adieu
To the Eurotrash crowding midtown?
Why is the heart downcast to think I won’t be seeing
The promenade along the Heights
(Alright, I don’t go there all that often, but I could),
Where I chatted with Ben Gardner
The third time he got off the ward? We availed ourselves
Of that view and spoke of how,
Statistically considered, the odds were his mind would now
Never really be right again.
And what of the old-world roses in back of the Brooklyn Museum?
If you time your visit right
(The 4th of July is too late, early in June would be better),
You can take in Albert Bierstadt
And then find Coral Creeper in bloom, pale apricot and smelling
Sweeter even than oil paint.
Or if that seems too out-of-town (those Japanese tour groups
Just love botanical gardens).
We speeding bedlamites might cross the bridge and drop
By Chumley’s for a drink:
Left over from prohibition, Chumley’s is all a bar should be,
Dark and cool, even in July,
And decorated with book jackets by authors famous in their time.
Let’s have gin gimlets
(Just gin and lime juice, no additives—New York bartenders
Will try to be original)
And look around the place, at the wood paneling and stone hearth
And two inconspicuous exits,
Still a handy feature if you see someone you’d rather not.
Now that we’ve started
Who wants to stop? Let’s do them all, let’s hit the White Horse
Where Hudson St. begins
(Only, please, this once, could we get in and out without quoting
His Welsh and blottoed self?);
Let’s taxi up Park Ave. to the lounge at the Mayfair Regent
And sit in wing-back chairs
While the girls in Victorian garb bring us exotic rum punches;
Let’s take the tube to Tribeca,
To Puffy’s on Varick St. (yes, I know Puffy’s is all yuppies now—
Too close to the exchanges.
And besides, artists can’t afford Tribeca anymore—but today
Everyone’s left for the 4th
And we can drink in peace as the trucks coming out of the tunnel
Rumble past warehouses outside).
Look, let’s really celebrate—come on, I’m leaving this town—
I know an opium den
Not far from the Manhattan Bridge (that engineering embarrassment,
That rickety hodgepodge,
That architectural macaronic of gothic arches and filigree finials
And some sort of Brandenburg Gate
Providing triumphal entry to the stoplights along Flatbush Ave.),
And if we beg at the door
We might just get in, even though we don’t speak Chinese
And have big noses and smell bad.
What do you mean you don’t want to? What else is New York for?
Costly hangovers and cheap ennui,
So come on, and since we’re half-drunk and headed that direction,
Let’s stop at Diamond Lil’s,
The joint on Canal where Rick Tilton used to get flat polluted
As he drank and drew the dancers
(All the models a painter could ask for, right there on the bar,
And striking most unusual poses),
Only—damn!—I forgot. Diamond Lil’s became McDonald’s, and that
Is the trouble with this town:
Just when you get used to it, get to know your way around.
The city you have learned is gone,
Torn down and made over according to someone else’s blueprint
Of how New York should be,
The landscape of your desires replaced by one more up-to-date.
By something more profitable
(Building New York making politicians so much money they elect
To repeat the effect regularly),
So that if you go looking for McFeely’s, in the Terminal Hotel
At the west end of 23rd,
Where Dan Halpern and Stephen Spender came in to eat one night
With a copy of Schuyler’s poem
Called “Dining Out with Doug and Frank,” which takes place there,
And started reading it aloud
Without even noticing—dumb bunnies —that sitting right next to them
Were Doug and Frank in the flesh,
You’ll find it’s closed, kaput, in renovation, i.e. done for;
And if you go looking
At the head of Macdougal for the Eighth St. Bookstore,
Where my poems will never stand
Between Byron and Blake (and right next to Charles Bukowski:
Sometimes life is pure bathos),
You’ll find it’s disappeared, vanished like volumes out-of-print,
Literally gone up in smoke,
And if New York has its bookstores still, still none of them.
Not Gotham Bookmart
(It’s clubby and confuses literature with rock ‘n’ roll, but has
Plenty of poetry anyway),
Not Books & Co. (spruce, with a so-so poetry selection unaccountably
Interspersed with prose),
Not the Phoenix, Gryphon, St. Marks, not Coliseum, not the Strand,
No none of them approach
That paragon, that platonic ideal, the paradise of bibliophiles,
Eighth St. Bookstore of my mind!
And that, of course, is the landfill it’s all been dragged to,
The suburb it’s all moved into,
The city of my recollection become the province of idle thought,
Its buildings suddenly transported,
Transformed into an imagined land, a half-visible locale
Where Kim Rogal and David Kalstone
(Each genial, myopic, bemused) may still be found at parties;
Where some celluloid obscurité
Still shows nightly to the faithful lined up outside the Thalia
(Inside are popcorn-eating mice
And the feeling of being between decks on a tramp steamer);
Where those old synagogues
On the lower east side, with their snakey, oriental motifs,
And those upper west side churches,
With their quasi-military towers and turrets, all still stand
(Churches are like women for me .. .
Worship seems a bit excessive, but I do like to look at them),
And the trashy condos
That replaced them are stripped, gutted, dynamited, razed;
Where the Day Line still plies
Hudson’s River, pushing upstream all the way to Poughkeepsie
To return among green prospects
Past Storm King and the Tappan Zee, past the Palisades
(That beetling escarpment
In which geologic time is evident as writing on the wall),
Back to New York, Sin City,
Wick to the wicked and home to eight million aspirations:
City of unnatural light,
City of squalor and big ambition, O infinitely human city,
Your every aspect I have
At heart from this day Fourth as the secret that defines me,
A Central Park of the soul,
Composed of all the beauty and violence that is the past,
A darkening confine from which
Patterns of memory will rise like poems, like the explosions
That have now begun to burst
Above the Park, above the Battery (when I lived in Brooklyn,
In a factory in the ghetto,
Holidays would bring fireworks over Manhattan and brisk reports
Of gunfire throughout Fort Green),
In radiant showers of red and white and blue, a first-class farewell,
A really super send-off,
The simply dazzling evanescence (“one lollapalooza of a show!”
“Mesmerizing, jaw-gritting excitement!”) that is what I take away
On July 4th 1988, Independence Day.
The 4th of July, and
The sidewalks are wobbling in the god-awful heat.