Mac Oliver

The Savior
New Netherlands


Dedicated to Elide Valarini Oliver 
And to the author’s nephew
William Trefiro Oliver (b. 19 May 08) 

In Memory of
Michael “Uncle Butters” Butterworth (d. July 1988) 
& Esmeralda Godfrey Oliver (1914-1993)

*     *     *

Our expeditions are but tours, & come round again 
At evening to the old hearthside from which 
We set out. Half the walk is but retracing our steps. 
We should go forth…
-Henry David Thoreau, Walking

The stone from which he rises up—and—ho,
The step to the bleaker depths of his descents…
-Wallace Stevens, The Rock

Who reads me, when I am ashes,
Is my nephew in wishes
-Henry Adams, Preface to Mont-Saint-Michel & Chartres 

Fit & noble island fray, this story Hears its audience in you. Chapter One: Advent December 2005, Lower Manhattan No Choice But to Negotiate As one astray amid woods petrified, A figure recognizable, who by A twist returned to log the straits through which There was no choice but to negotiate His way, to tell what beckoned him get lost At last & quit his silent questioning, To speak aloud in lines of poetry, For all the numbers bound to back away, Remain beneath the tyranny of prose. Lower Manhattan’s a theatre wherein You’ve seen the folly & the fraud play out, As episodes a syndicate repeats. I have pronounced, coerced, the shibboleths With heavy tongue (a ruminant’s), Reviewed the tags affixed mistakenly. You’ve seen (how could you not have seen) the waste Exceed the ancient dynasties & cried Along with others under burdens customs Order you to bear, weighed in again, A soul deprived of sun by edifices In between its warmth & you at work, Still held in high regard, despite how low You’ve sunk, for productivity. But now, Fed up with sloganeering, platitudes The despots use to hide, misallocating Through their final acts, I’ve found the nerve To share unnerving news, & will in verse, Should you come too, convey The revolution of a consciousness Beneath the shades of mammoth offices, Recount how I, Ham Underhill, a temp, Underemployed, a squatter, pockets all But emptied, uninsurable, my clock Just punched, was stopped mid-step, a rude Awakening for this somnambulist Who winds up automated by the day, A kind of winter’s nap, a daytime sleep Just deep enough to see you miss Foreshadowing of news to come, As when attention spans divide for lack Of focus, miss what’s really happening. A Strike The gist is this: my tried routine was thwarted When I found the flight of stairs Descending to the Uptown Local blocked— Police Line, Do Not Cross. It was a strike, The city’s transit union threatening To shut the shopping season down, to use Their leverage, & then went through with it, Their picket lines to interrupt the cheer, A high stakes tactic, surely, not to be Ignored. That day I overheard a few Executives refer to blackmail, Their bonuses say seven times, or even Seventy times seven times the best Of transit salaries. I listen as One mocks all strikes as mere ingratitude, Just greed. I might have said that’s spoken like A real manager, well-paid. I ceased To listen, each with beams in both his eyes, To get another raise the goal with which They are entirely preoccupied. I’d say in retrospect, you take a side, Whoever wins this round, who benefits The most, but one who’s honest must concede, It’s not a living to be envied, underground. Both AwaitIt’s adventitious,” was my second thought, This transit strike, forced pivoting. Now here’s your chance to lose the hurried press Of hustlers brawling, bustling from Wall, An interruption much appreciated, Like a gift as rare as myrrh, to find You may advance by dawdling, unwind. That night would be the longest of the year Save one, the following. A hard dull cold Came on but I decided not to troop Towards home, or linger for a ride Requiring so steep a fare as taxis Charge, my money put aside for pit stops, Wells to be determined on the way. The wind went through my threadbare hand-me-downs, Too thin for wind-chill such as this, their wool Worn out, inadequate to cut the sheer Exposure from the east, which triggers gusts Accelerating up the narrow streets Downtown, as if the banks were turbines, Harnessing each one into a howl, As if through all this strife an owl screeched Its phrase to haunt an outcast settler, Alone, ignorable, the elements His match. Meanwhile, imagine hosts of dives Behind whose heavy wooden doors you’d hear The history revised, how they would quench Deep thirst for warmth & light, where benches drenched In both await, the bars one only notes on foot. Somewhere Unheralded Glazed eyes must squint away these gusts, as one Grows icicles for eyelashes, like tinsel On an ornamented spruce. You would Have seen & heard me shivering at first, Fists clenched, before I laughed it off & scoffed At cowardice or lack of will I’d felt On prior nights less cold than this instead Of braving it & getting lost; instead Of seeking out the seediest of spots Because they’re there, what reason else, & for They’re welcoming & cast an inner glow Into the glut of outer dark; instead Of generating heat within myself: Defeated nights, locked in, long nights closed off Spent muttering of permanent retreats, Unbearably restricted, paralyzed. This night I would resist, make liberty My principle. I’d proudly lollygag, Persist in getting lost, if possible, Ignore the clock, nowhere to go, let thoughts Of speed dissolve, forget the fidgeting Of traders, edgy, frantic, finished off For good. I’d make this leg on foot, despite The distances involved, without the least Regret I’d have to walk, console myself It might have been a choice before, but I Was always drifting off by now from all The office shuffling, the tunneled heat. So though I couldn’t choose but walk—the strike Deciding for me—pace, direction, those Remained my choice, by indirection on The way, with generally northward drift. I had a hunch somewhere unheralded Awaited me, some hidden nick beneath A chimney made of brick, hospitable Amid this chiseled schist, this mica schist And gneiss I’ve missed when forced to rush the gate, Through stop & go by sortilege of lights That switched from green to red from street to street, No time to pause for an extended look, As when a restless passenger, no book To open for escape, beneath the ground, Pressed close to others, strap to steady me, I met no other’s pair of eyes, but rather Studied all the pairs of leather shoes. Seek the Bottom This wind’s perpetual (despite the gusts That die as quickly as their kicks are felt), Provides an undercurrent colder than You care to pause & feel, moving on. Between the narrow towers foresting These blocks the wind was fostering in me An awful breathlessness, an asthma based On wonder mixed with wind knocked out, as if Each gust had kicked me in the guts. Where pine & cedar used to grow I coughed To see a wilderness of glass, of loud And artificial light, the towers foisted, Wrenched & hoisted, bossing through the dusk, Of size so prepossessing you might think They could monopolize your focus, seize Your eyes as advertisers, Gorgons do, You frozen to the spot, immoveable, Your soul afflicted, powerless, drawn back, Your body heavier than stone, as old And dense. Perhaps malevolence conceived These harried straits, not for the benefit Of anyone who’s hurried underneath. These skyscrapers, so clustered as they are, Resemble awkward characters with flaws, Upon their stage, a theatre of brands, Whose frames reflect a will to overwhelm. Some want more than a lifetime offers them. Their monuments, you know, are mutable. The neighborhood becomes a kind Of psychomachia, externalized, The inward worry of one mind amid The millions passing through these straits, Wall Street, Where only willfulness can stand its ways, Folks strut or fret according to gyrations, Upward, downward spiraling, watch out For vultures hovering. I’ve heard Consensus grow: if it’s the “ground floor” offer You’ve been after & you hope to ride The crest of yet another bubbling boom Before it bursts, you seek the bottom first. The bottoms of my soles will soon wear through For want of ready money, work that pays Enough to live. I hold on tight to my Wool hat, don’t want the wind to lift it off My noggin, warm & snug. It is hand sewn, This hat, from Donegal, you’ve seen the kind, Sole article of quality I own, A Christmas gift a dozen year ago. Who sewed it made it fit enough to last. I Lack Such Scrolls Were I well off perhaps evasion would Come easier, perhaps I’d rise above What is an inconvenience, no more, To those who can afford to go around, Not dwell on frailty or hear the tidal Lowing of the strapped, old radiators Nullified & cold, invisible Behind closed doors, walled off, whose breath In steaming sighs & moans, diminutive, If they are underneath a roof at all. I haven’t let myself get so upset In many years, allowed the world to Burst in on my perceptions, sorrows, griefs Thought general except to those Who suffer them, then woefully specific, Chronic pain, a feeling singled out, Reduced to tagging vandal, tallying In litanies what few would care to hear, The grooves to mark what’s never catalogued, Or having been, has been erased years since. Folks have their destinations, move along While I would leave in vain. I have been made The captive audience before, will be Again; could not, that frosty night, evade These voices, bleak as any swollen throat, Though buckled down, maneuvering; cannot Ignore the vacancy of eyes that look So obviously powerless to change, In need of any change I have to spare, The mercury in rapid plunge. This season is supposed to be a glad one, Gladdest of them all, at least for most. Gnarled sufferings would frustrate lists Of loving gratitude. It’s hard to hear Subsistence failing, to see the flesh So honed, bones weakening. I lack such scrolls Of grief as bursting sobbed from Kerouac, Who wept uninterruptedly, left lines Unraveling as roads that have no end, Or skin the snake sloughs off: don’t tread on me. Old Wonder, New Repairs The everyday appearance as it strikes -Wordsworth Old wonder, new repairs, I saw the cracked- Archangel spires, jagged, glow like wicks As dusk set down, the temporal assume The temple’s register, the work of days Performed within, the ordinary tasks, Potentially extraordinary where The raptors, dizzy, spread their wings amid The zeniths of these shafts, then plunge on rock doves, Feeding in the street, where growth Conceals us, our figures in the thick Of it, low key, at ease though cold. I hope You will continue on if you’re cut out For compassing the parenthetical. We’ll smell the onions stinking up this town, The soiled pearls rank with life that swell Beneath the earth, & pulled & cut as from A weathered field, reek enough to draw Your tears; then grilled with peppers, permeate The intersections, smell like human sweat. The strike creates a silence out of tune With nights as usual, no trains that hurl Rattling along their corridors, Their bored-out bedrock throats, no tunnel grates To jar, no ducts to cough, no temple-splitting din Beleaguering nocturnal wanderers Tonight, but amplified, low ticks of time. The strike throws off this density of folks, Their daily tasks so agonized, prolonged, Who, disappointed, peer across a bridge Through moving air & cringe because they’re forced To cross that way on foot, like fugitives, To walk so far so cold a day, the sun Already weakened to a coal. I know Those loads they carry, low wage shifts, each hefty weight. I shudder at the burdens shouldered over, Only half-aware till here & now These umbers numbered so, this blur of folks Who walk the planks above the cars to reach The Brooklyn side, who wouldn’t show, by train, But would be subterranean right now. I Must Digress Loud carols pour like light & heat from doors Of shops, car radios, “the blazing Yule Before us… strike the harp & join the chorus.” It’s a night to relish colored lights, To cherish scents of wreaths, for listening To the vernacular of mysteries, To look for virtue, mastery of those Emotions culled when seasons change, the bells Of carillons go through their repertoire Of maudlin numbers, overheard, to be Alone as usual amid so many Others lost in solitude & not Dismay, or let some fondness drift too far Away from here, December in Manhattan, No remote escapes, but memories Still islanded down here, still localized Enough that you could guide another by Your own account of where things are, or were, Not just the area, the ownership In constant flux, but jarring recollections, Dates & names presumed to have been lost. I stopped & listened to So This Is Christmas On the way to work, so understated, Striking inward, chords of sympathy. I shouldn’t let it get to me, so plain A sentiment, a revolution round The sun, another set of aspirations Checked by injuries. Its chant of “War Is over (if you want it)” leaves me wistful, Children’s voices in the chorus, wondering What causes war. I heard on lunch-break Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, The Boss, Who hollers out the words more than he sings: “Yuh better watch out, yuh better not cry…” The loss Is salient since last I sang along With songs like these, or rattled off old tunes Beneath my father’s roof, the house we shared Throughout my youth, the family aglow, Or with that loose & jolly rabblement That walked the blocks of our old neighborhood And filled the nights before the holiday With fa la la la la—la la—la—lah. Old stations missed when passed, once meant For rest, such jingles jog my lists & gauge The distance come since childhood, the breaks From school down here, as when a sophomore, I lived The Catcher in the Rye, affected By the meaninglessness shadowing This life, the mist that covers things, the need To moan from sudden grief without my sense Of inner humor dying first, despite The yuletide cheer. I only pass as one Who’s “fairly Christmassy,” although no Scrooge. I must digress like troubled Holden, form A remedy, let memory provide, Prove welcoming to anything that comes, Allow some freedom to associate, Let go of any longing for control, Allow even the cold ingratitude That greets me gustily to pass, like sleet, Blow through, as those left panicking with flights To catch must push & shove along, who will Not slow their pace, but rather show a wild- Eyed willingness to fight for any lift, To be the first in any line, forget The rest, snatch up another’s cab, protest It benefits the family, admit One’s rudeness then go on, insist, I’m rude Because nobody will provide for them But me, & still without the grace of thanks. The Cold Set In The cold set in much worse. My feet were dense With dampness penetrating through my socks. The wind would not relent, a haunted freeze Both fatal & indifferent that might Delight Nathaniel Hawthorne at his desk, The fire blazing, windows blistering Like skin with burn of ice without, within A view of warmth & light, the darkness licked By tongue of flame, the tunnel of the grate A storm of drafts, his intellect the focus, Thinking with some room: I wanted warmth Of such a nature, & for reasons to be Mentioned later, ducked into this bar, The Fraunces Tavern. I’ve since found that one Can concentrate effectively down there. Impatience wanes, you listen in & hear. Chapter Two: A Senior Citizen Scale Unexpected This tavern stands in contrast to its cavernous Surroundings, scale unexpected (like St. Peter’s from the 70’s, the chapel Underneath a cantilevered tower, Lexington & 53rd, the air Rights sold, the ratio of high & low Bathetic, for its incongruity). Amid such depths downtown, this neighborhood Of banks, you see a pub, commodious, Beneath the sign of Queen’s Head in its day, Bequeathed beyond its Georgian origins Into this present night. It had its share Of storied years as Federalist, then gaps Of scores, decay, revival, now too neat A reenactment of, or throwback to, Ye erstwhile days, ye nights of yore, withstands Your scrutiny, a senior citizen. Three fires, maybe four, blazed through, razed Pearl, Till half the work of its destruction done, In longing for those honored days, they tore It down & built another one, antiqued In re-creation. Kitsch & camp aside, It seems to hide in open sight, withdrawn. Dwelling (Or Its Shell) In Revolutionary days those soon Fatigued beneath the royal thumb—the crown That monarchized, tumescent & obtuse, A wall of sea three thousand miles between— While quartering the flanks of soldiery, Intolerable Acts, would often choose This well to draw their fill of drafts, from ills They knew would fly head on for those they chose. In short, the nation still inchoate it Was where men cooled their throats for rhetoric, The leaf bits stuck to lips & teeth, burnt tongues, Those bossy mouths rumbustious with drams Of demon water, dozens of them, flint- Lock marksmen, off half-cocked, & heretics And bounders, racketeering traffickers. I see the flash of what authority Maintains the status quo, & those who wish To overthrow the world now, who’d rush The citadel, their patience lost, gang up, Knock down, at liberty to hang themselves, Together or apart, but one short life To lose, regrettably, with Cato’s flourish, Rectitude of dear old Cincinnatus. It stood at just about the new republic’s Axis (“A republic,” said old Ben, “If you can keep it,” fend off wear & tear, Inevitable top-down-rottenness) A stone’s throw from the island’s southeast tip. Maintained by an endowment I presume, And housing a museum, it was home To War Department offices, the new Executive’s appointed cabinet Paid rent in here before the Capitol Had even been surveyed, malarial, Before The Mall & its museums, all Those aging bureaus multiplied by ten, McMillan Plan, the “City Beautiful”, The great marmoreal compartments, frozen Blocks of grim partitioning, each war Assigned its own memorial. I think Of all those countless statesmen, cold, damp looks Profound, within this work of mortar, trowel, Brick, the oldest dwelling (or its shell) Not yet demolished for the sake of higher floors (St. Paul’s the sole exception, was, still is); Of those erratic founders, volatile Amid the headless mobs, the rare ones groomed In this long room, who made their voices boom Above the braying feasts, the fray of guests, Loud nations needing leaders even louder. The Point To Stand It had to be the point to stand before They flung a bridge across the river’s breadth, Along where J.A. Roebling’s foot was crushed, When ferries breathing wreaths of mist would ply Its steaming mouth & through the Lower Bay, The Narrows bottlenecked with sudsy wakes, And further back, molasses slow to move, A mid-Atlantic port with room to grow, Triangulated in a world trade. You go way back, imagine its beginnings, Picture taverns & their tables, scenes As on a canvas of De Hooch, small things That tell long stories, intricate as days Of ordinary life, of gatherings For Netherlandish ale, brewed right there, A bar to anchor every block with tools For coping with remoteness, platters full Of shellfish, zinc for thought & memory, That copper tang, as if twin ravens settled On your collar bones & whispered in Your ears: Manhattan Island is your oyster, Yes, & Pearl Street her opening. The cellars tossed three thousand broken shells Out back each night, their oysters broiled, steamed And pickled, smoked or baked or stewed or fried, Or on the half-shell, raw, alive. They rose Till middens, mounds of them, like pearly gates Enclosed a hidden past, to add to those Already piled there millennia, Macadamized when grids were stretched across Manhattan, intermittently interring Former worlds, calcium, a slow decay. Skyward, Engineers The outcroppings were leveled, swamps reclaimed, Drained off collects filled in, new ground, the coasts Increased, encroaching on the river, not The other way around. The pinch of rent Gave common pain, amid the ravenous, The mad for revenues, for quick returns, Hell-bent beyond the Mr. Smile advertised. They never feared for routs or broils, always From the ashes rising higher, riding Sprague & Otis skyward, engineers The architects, their shelves like quarries, books Like beams, inherited conglomerates, The walls in quantity, antiquity Ransacked, the skeletons of girders cloaked In glass of cloudy cut, yoked in By zoning laws, a series of revivals, Rivalries to show whose tower bosses Nearest to the sun: St. Tammany, Please tell, Grand Sachem, which of these houses, firms, Embraces heaven closest, has that touch, And which is gutted from within, a house Of cards, which scheme of pyramids, a ruse, Infirm, in need of stimulus, & which Tall obelisk will be the last of all These trusts to stand behind its word, by gold, And which, should Hell exist, would justly dwell, By God, with all the worst who gained because They misinformed the world for themselves. Island Giganticism Island Giganticism: where species evolve In ways that leave them vulnerable As flightless birds watch castaways from shore, Too long without an adversary, fat, Too easy prey for pests, once introduced, As uninvited guests will crash a feast, Consume what’s left of food & booze, or as A cat will beat the life out of a nest For play, then lick its bloody paws with an Artistic patience. Kudzu strangles hemlocks, Leaves them dead. Goodbye to oddities Extinct as mastodons, the fruits of digs, The skeletons displayed conjectural. I Spot a Sketch Bermuda Rum to sooth a wintry throat, A Devil’s Island dram, rumbullion, Those “comfortable waters”, like a storm Contained within a glass, dark history Distilled from cane, I sniff it deep And sip a tot of grog to please a tar. Bermuda: Somers bound for Jamestown struck Its shore by accident & settled it, Same year as Hudson entered New York Bay. Bermuda: where the petrels in the dusk Would frighten off the wanderer, repel The faint of heart, their wings around the masts, As pirates found a haven, privateers, Confederates. I sniff its painfully Intense aroma, think of cruelty Inveterate, of pain gone by, as if To get in here I walked on unmarked tombs, Each barrel of molasses made from sweat Whipped out of harvesters. The char of oak Is strong because the wood was used to age A batch of Bourbon, then shipped off to age The youthful rum, then bottled, shipped again. I lift my eyes & gaze around a room That seems preserved in amber, spot a sketch, A patch of huts, Dutch names: New Amsterdam, And tribal dialects, it is the whole Of Len-ap-e-ho-king, the homeland of The Delaware, a hacking back to wildness. That “Bohemian Coast”, The Village goes By Sap-po-kan-i-can, tobacco crop, With scarce a trace to hint the present phase, This populace, but soporific brooks And ponds by blocks eclipsed, that’s hard To recognize, from “Battery to Bronx”, Changed utterly, the Bowery an orchard, Headstrong Stuyvesant’s, “The Rock”, retired, Forced to grant to Doctor Pell his Colony, The peg-legged old protagonist that pines Through Knickerbocker’s tale, one seed Of Ahab throwing off the habit of his pipe. There’s Hackensack, Fresh Kills, Bronx Kill, The Kill Van Kull, & well before they dug The ship canal, the Spuyten Duyvil Creek, Before its flow was rearranged, amid The Inwood marble, Fordham gneiss (Pre-Cambrian, more than a billion years Compacted, surfacing), where Half-Moon anchored, Restless dolphin nosing far & wide For passages that weren’t there, mid all This jewelweed, spicebush, Cho-rak-a-pok. And not far by, Long Island Sound spreads wide: Dubbed Devil’s Belt, for all the boulders—Stepping Stones—Old Scratch once threw across its face, The narrows where the currents frustrate charts, Where sloops had no alternative but hope To reach Manhattan from the Sound, by skillful Luck to navigate that fevered strait, Hell Gate, which held the island hostage from The east, so changeable, so dangerous, The weather something out of Whistler, boats Rebuffed for having overlooked the schist And gneiss, Cimmerian, a land of shades That’s harrowing below the buckled surfaces That whirl through the Gate, once trumpeted As such, a killer, now sedate, for all Who drowned against their wills, or felt that scare, Disaster lists, before they blasted it. Tangent on “The Slocum” When the subject was New York the books Concurred the worst disaster of them all, Last century, peacetime, for loss Of human life, was when The Slocum burned, A thousand women, girls, in the flames Or drowned escaping, no way out for them, A wound that rippled by degree around The globe through Dublin’s Bloom. Tangentially, The man for whom the ship was to be named, A General, had been nicknamed “Slow Come” At Gettysburg because he vacillated When he should have charged a ridge, but claimed Acoustic shade had blocked his orders. Local folks forgave such lack of hearing And elected him on top of war- Time doubts, deserved, folks thought, the honor of A few things named for him. Bad luck. He bears A curse that’s posthumous, would have Been better off anonymous, the ship Synonymous with criminal neglect, A thousand innocents betrayed, a shifty Vessel from the start, foreshadowing Its own demise, its dance with doom, aground A half a dozen times, collisions, hosts Of near-disasters till the final one. And then Fort Slocum, derelict, ghost town, Hart Island, where nobody goes alive, Except the inmates off The Rock, paid half A buck an hour, ferried by the guards To reach that Potter’s Field, dig the rows That shelve the nameless dead, impoverished, Nobody claimed, no visitors allowed, The rusty Nike missile silos in Decay, as empty as the chimneys of A crumbling graveyard-fort, left islanded Amid this furious activity, The jets out of LaGuardia non-stop. Whereas the scrap & garbage barges head southwest, The ferry-hearses wake the lower Sound. The Old Surveyor Up spiral stairs, you see the long room’s boast, That 4th December toast: the General George Washington’s farewell, his brow one half As old as time, half dust, half deity, Like stone that bears a rosy stain, that struck, Split rock, would flow, sanguineous, a face Deep-flushed with love & gratitude, it states, Enough for one last tip of glasses, toast And old vignette; George Washington, who would Bedew no face with spittle, drawn to heights of wealth, Distiller known for what he never did, That famous hatchet through a cherry tree, White lies of Mason Weems, who gave the children Good old honest George; whose obelisk Was interrupted half way up by war Between the states, cut off, resumed At later date, betrays at base a stone That’s different than through its final peak, Its spike of cast aluminum, in those Days valued high as gold, so rare it was (What litters every street in dented cans, Two dozen empties spilled around a drunk, A dollar & a quarter worth of them). This room’s a replica of that which held The ranks of saddened veterans that flanked Their old surveyor, hard survivor, who Made risky river crossings. He escaped The heights of Brooklyn, crossed the East at night, To fight another day, recovered strength, Despite his forces dwindling, swollen flanks Of Howe’s; & clove the sullen Delaware, The sight must be familiar to you In paint: Emmanuel Leutze, from revolutions, 1848, enthusiastic, Sought to show the spirit of the risk Involved, the thrust of romance, heroism; Not, as Rivers, Koch, O’Hara, romance, Heroism… humor: loss of faith In worn out concepts, darker questioning. He crossed a stormy Christmas Night, year one Of Independence, of his men would say, The crossing’s harsh conditions didn’t in The least abate their ardor, no: they seized The mercenaries by surprise. He played The fox, maneuvering in dark retreats, The final victory deferred for years: George Washington, the venerable pillar, With a barrel of Barbados Rum Provided for the first inauguration; Washington, born with his clothes on, “The American denominator” There aglow with thermal luster just Above the hearth. The sight reverberates, As if a living scene, with latent sound. Sons of Liberty The other faces down the bar could be The Sons of Liberty, erecting poles, Provoking wars with bricks, enframed By sayings of their fathers, lionized, Those overthrowing sons, their rhetoric Thrasonical, about the deeds of war They honor, not its loutish looting, horrors. Look into the eyes of those who ratified The deed, if you can summon them, a print Or piece of money, any one of these, The manifold & sundry founders, restless Sons of Liberty, the rakish, florid, Vital ones, the usufruct, the new Ones flowering upon the foundering Of those beneath the ground, who living seized The powder house, those rascals crouched Behind each bush, each blustering decree More mischievous than first let on, each gaze Like coal or sap ablaze, at risk, men like Commodities, as liable to swing. More Than a Quarter Century Between No accident that in this bar my Uncle Comes to mind, a rendezvous between A sense of fate & what I chanced to meet. I had been open to what might come up, And weirdly, found I’d gravitated round The blocks & wound up close to where my walk Began, where Broad & Pearl intersect. Was there I saw a plaque to mark a kind Of fosse beneath the level of the street, Brass grate which stirred a fund of memories, Half-formed, until I walked a little further, Saw this tavern, said aloud, That door… Its portal lured me inward, slow, perceptive, As I entered thought, my Uncle brought Me through its frame. What year was that? How soon It seems so late, a decade, two, no, more, A quarter century comes in between. Return to roots, well-fixed, relax with room Enough to muse, to be reminded how We sat in here & talked one night, these thoughts As pungent as the myrrh of peaty malt, Of honey & of heather, snifter’s curve He cradled in his palm to warm it up, With amber legs extending round the glass, Like sap, Drambuie. Nose & all, I would Immerse myself in fumes. Now just a sniff, He’d warn, my face halfway into its bubble, Not a sip, too hot for your young tongue To taste as yet. A reminiscence strong As that, I felt his “presence in his own domain.” On Nightly News IInitiation… heretofore unrealized,” That was Late Fall of 1979, The cusp of winter, this the month, December… Anchors numbered off on nightly news The days of the unfolding hostage crisis, Fear for those blindfolded diplomats With rifles hovering about their heads, The youths of Persia rioting, possessed The embassy, Decembrists of their day, Their rising irrepressible, & what One didn’t understand seemed most of it. It was the year, you may recall, The Who Played Cincinnati: fooled again, the crowd Stampeded. Folks were crushed, some killed. The Wall Was echoing from FM radios, Three thousand choruses a day of “we Don’t need no education… need no thought- Control!” plus hits like “Rock with You” from Off The Wall, “Don’t stop till you get enough” Ubiquitous, atop the charts; about One year before Mark David Chapman, book In pocket, flanked the old Dakota armed, And murdered Lennon, cold, outside the door. This was ten years before the Berlin Wall Came down, before the Velvet Revolution; Havel, fan of The Velvet Underground, Was jailed again, ten years before he’d be The President. The Soviets would roll Their tanks that Christmas Day & on the double Cross into the mountains of Afghanistan. Those days we were concerned with hockey news. The Hartford Civic Center roof collapsed The year before beneath the weight of snow And left The Whalers (now defunct) without A home arena, roaming through the league They’d hardly joined. But they had Gordie Howe, Gray haired, to hustle out a final year Before retirement, The Hall of Fame. The Islanders had Bossy, Howe if young Again, with whom they’d seize the Cup. It was Two months before we heard the broadcaster Blurt out, “Do you Believe in miracles?” Lake Placid fame, The Miracle on Ice. On Nightly News II It was the year that saw the death of Nelson Rockefeller, grandson of the robber baron; Yankee catcher Thurman Munson crashed His plane; of John Wayne, star, more myth than man; Of Elizabeth Bishop, quiet poet who wrote The Man-Moth & The Unbeliever, or At least those were my Uncle’s favorites; Of Allen Tate, the Fugitive, while His fellow Fugitive, Robert Penn Warren, Collected the Pulitzer Prize. Odysseus Elytis was awarded the Nobel. Mt. Erebus, peak of ice, Antarctica, Was struck by accident: a jumbo jet Blindsided it, New Zealand bound, & crashed Into its frozen wastes, forever lost, As all on board gave up the ghost, their corpses Mummified in crevices, unthawed. Mt. Aetna’s throat erupted modestly. A dam in India collapsed, left thousands Drowned, while quakes were rocking faulty plates Throughout Iran, interpreted by some As ominous for all of us. It was The year another brother Kennedy Would run for President. Idi Amin Would be deposed. A Polish Pope (the first) Who’d studied for the priesthood underground, Defied the state, its laws, in favor of His calling, loved the theatre, with ears For verse, addressed the whole UN, midtown Manhattan (hadn’t faced assassination Passing through St. Peter’s square as yet). The known petroleum reserves around The globe had peaked, in retrospect, that spice Of modern trade, miraculous & cruel, To rig so many men to sanguine schemes. A woman, Thatcher (first) became Prime Minister Across the sea, but news would turn around The Ulster Troubles, skirmishes & bombs. Mountbatten’s boat blew up in Sligo Bay, Beneath Ben Bulben tense with violence, Same day an ambush killed more than a dozen. News around the globe was terrorism, Enmities, no peace accord above The noise was audible, the cameras. The Grand Mosque, Mecca, even that Was taken hostage, armed commandoes on Request to ransom it, same year Iraq Was seized by coup, a gang of thugs whose boss And chief abuser was Saddam Hussein, Supported from these shores, contra Iran, From here his name synonymous with fog Of war, wrong rumors, ignis fatuus, Not justice, sanctity, just gasses, death. On Nightly News III While Pioneer 11 passed the rings Of Saturn, Voyager was photographing Moons of Jupiter, the Skylab fell To pieces, spiraled back to Earth, debris. The world news could not ignore the Shah And Ayatollah, David Rockefeller, New to me, nor had I read as yet Of Kermit Roosevelt (their grandfathers Had left them with responsibilities, So hard to bear, so serious they were, And confident, from robber barons, old Patroons, a sense they were entitled to The reins of leadership, the rightful heirs Of hierarchies: were, in fact, for all The frightful leverage displayed, the swayed Elections, rolodex with six degrees Of networking, well-bound, engrossingly Fecund with family & family friends). A caricature of Henry Kissinger Was sketched in the New York Review of Books In which you only saw his eyes ensconced In thick old glasses, signature of him, A spook, like T. J. Eckleburg, Those faceless eyes that brood upon a dump: “He sees you when you’re sleeping, knows when you’re Awake…” America was hated on The camera, or demonstrations showed Halfway around the world, nicknamed Great Satan by the students of Iran. Folks talked about the power of cartels, The tally at the closing bell in barrels, Shortages, long lines, the empty tankers, Trucks with empty beds, the days of odd And even tags, of speculators glad In it, some bankers with a boom despite Embargoes, gold gone through the roof, the dollar Low & bankruptcy a destiny The City had but narrowly averted. Interest rates, inflation, reached fifteen Percent. Perhaps the news that threatened most Was from the Susquehanna, partial meltdown, Three Mile Island, in the “Quaker State,” In which the tags reminded you, you have A friend. The China Syndrome played In theatres; Apocalypse Now. You heard Not of the Falls but of Niagara’s Love Canal, Of toxic “superfunds” or “brown fields.” The Governor of the entire “Empire State,” Was charismatic, popular, Hugh Carey. Tangent on the Governor The Governor? My Grandfather was not Unlike that man: a politician, lobbyist, Of stubborn Irish stock, but savvy, quick Of mind & physically determined, Rose in Hartford as Hugh Carey did In Brooklyn; Hartford, where the Morgans (Real & imagined) were conceived, The Yankee & the Banker, dead & gone, The poet of the winter walked his path To work uninterruptedly, & where Like Carey Grand Dad mastered that machine Of local bosses, wards, attended wakes, Smoked big cigars, wore down his soles, Would knock on doors, house calls, give rides to polls, Each thoroughfare his own, became Well known for his relentlessness, a voice For oratory, verses. He was liable To read fine print, the footnotes of a law, Or write the law himself, the codicils, His hand in evidence. He represented Aetna & The Diocese. He shared A bench at lunch on more than one occasion With the poet, talked of actuarials, Perhaps, bonds rates with regulators or, Their bill just paid, they talked of poetry, Perhaps The Rubáiyát, but none can say. It’s not surprising Carey would’ve won The favor of our house, despite the fact My parents couldn’t vote for him, a state Away, a house in which you’d find O’Connor’s Last Hurrah on several shelves, And jars of campaign pins for Kennedy, Each brother’s run for president. All this To say years later I would get a chance To introduce myself to him, the guest Of honor on St. Patrick’s Day, New Haven. Master of the toast, his Brooklyn voice Bespoke a kinder spirit than expected, Full of laughs & witticisms, pointed Quotes, no gaffes or broken syntax, just His tested poise. It’s still a rarity To meet someone with such an air of earned Authority, a posture sure, at ease, His gestures meant, or seemingly, with force And grace combined, a sturdy frame behind Each move, convincing, having spent A life in politics. It isn’t hard To see the actor Spencer Tracy cast In Carey’s role, the sage professional. So when at last cigars were handed out And folks were free to roam the room I shook His hand & asked him if he knew some Yeats By heart, as poetry seemed key to him. "You know, from school, like ‘On the pavement’s gray’"? I asked. I was a fool to bother him, Perhaps, but he was welcoming, more host Than guest, if slow to turn, exhaling The smoke from his cigar, his breath with just A trace of alcohol, the feast: "By heart? Of course, but not from school; & no, not lines Like that. You’re still young yet..." He weighed the words Upon his tongue before he said, "We learned: ‘Too long a sacrifice can make a stone Of the heart...’" His memory was moving him, And then with mischievous solemnity, He looked me in the eye & shook my hand Again goodbye, I swear, while he intoned, "We learned, but never had to be assigned, To say: ‘A terrible beauty is born…’" Then turned away to greet another guest. A Child Might Understand The devil had business on his hand -Burns A child might understand in some small way The symbols waved unnervingly across The TV screens were worrisome, although His understanding went no further. My Bewilderment was great as flags were raised To rouse those who would say they’d had enough. I didn’t know of what or why, since when. I saw the countless followers of men That surged like tides against high bars of sand, Pushed back by Billy-clubs, or beaten flat In solidarity, the bullied up Against the bullying, the fearful mobs Behind some charismatic man in robes Who treads in austere ways, with graying beard, Wall-eyed, upon whom you might fear to gaze, Who uses flaming words to undermine The thought of peace, pontificating, armed; Or shaven men in uniforms, who strode With utter confidence across green lawns To helicopters, decks of carriers, Who leaned their hard, oppressive weight On swagger sticks in contumacious poses, Clicked & checked the magazines, took aim With eye through scope, impressed, for kicks, With aviator shades to ward off glares, A job to do, divide the flawed terrain, Projecting odds of victory, to send The minimum, the maximum expendable; Or men in Windsor knots & three piece suits Swept up in verbal rage, indecorous, Their charge: tomorrow’s mutiny, Disparaging all clarity, the lines Familiar, the plots redoubtable in all Their tailored dignity, no word but hatred To describe the fuel they lit to launch What only later one would recognize As sophistry, the skillful tricks by which One weakens stronger arguments, turns slick In favor of the cynical, the few. Confused Aspiring My Uncle was an expert on these ways Folks used persuasion, patiently Explained how crowds were harboring Within themselves hot pain, well hurt, resentful From incitement, longer stories linked To past injustices, their bandwagons Were full of smoldering. They formed the rank And file mobs that rose to douse the flags And torch the effigies with petrol, fed The violence I wished to understand, All heaving heavenward, each having sworn Beyond the rule of fellow men, beyond The realm of Caesar, as it were, to realms Of their deferred deliverance, by grace Of obligation, risk of castigation, awe, In hopes of an apocalypse, their own; Then ostracism, shelling out the cost Of self-assertion, antinomian Amid the wood, cut loose to face that wilderness Of risk alone, confused aspiring, Surrendering to self-fulfilling prophecies, The elevator of ethereal Rewards, from which so few return. A flood of humans lacking, looking, bursts The oldest gates, confluences of hunger, Anger, magnified, the push & shove For nourishment, their fuming passions Stricken like a match, luciferous Against the pitch black situation, no Relief in sight, benighted, from a life That—as it was—was full of nothing but The cruelty of others, suffering. Why else would they have lost themselves in rage? For stymied hopes, ignored, the pride they felt They merited, they seized the instruments Of destiny by force, another kind Of boss to feed, another ring to kiss. From early on one sensed the obvious, The world was full of obstacles to peace. Expectant Light It was the Advent season. Altar boy, I was the thurifer at Mass, who shook The frankincense & myrrh along the aisle Of the nave & through the crossing, made Three sets of triple swings to cense the pews And altar: Preparation of the Gifts, Inhaled those rich, enchanting trails, shrouds Of sacred odors, fumes that flowed like thoughts With holy sway, thoughts fugitive as smoke, Or clamoring of unseen wings somewhere Above the arches of the roof, its ribs And groins of vaulted stone, a finch from eaves Flown loose, a passage on the soul’s way up, And nearly drifted off to sleep when left To kneel, dreams high arguments for why I shouldn’t feel light as they, in glass, The quiet shepherds & their lambs, or call That pearly brotherhood, the haloed ones, Who would respond, as later I would love Chagall, to muse on heights of fertile glass, The colors cast through motes of dust too small To catch without that art, disintegrated. Capitals of pillars, soaring, held My undivided mind for moments long Forgotten since. How small I was, how green, Unfledged, a whelp amid the underwood Of pews, the ancient boards of which were stained To shine like wingtip shoes, what rays came through The windows crazed & cast aslant & glanced The polished grains of wine-dark cordovan. I loved to sketch the Stations of the Cross When half in shade, the figures in relief, The first fall, second, third, the crowded streets, Some others there to climb that hill’s dry skull, That doleful, darkened day, on which the fate Of all was acted out as in a theatre Each spring, dashed off, a Passion play. Or any other day, set free from school, I’d draw the cliff of schist that faced my town, Or burrow in the library so as To find the books of architecture drawn For younger minds, & borrow them for months, Especially Macaulay’s Pyramid, Cathedral, City, Underground, & what Had not been published yet but would be soon, My final preference, Unbuilding, re: Dismantling the Empire State, all done By pen. I couldn’t wait to see them for Myself, such buildings as he drew, to stand Beneath their awful height & weight & sketch Three-point perspectives. Up till then I’d limned The tallest buildings in expectant light, Manhattan’s leaner towers, far downtown, From helicopter photographs, would pass Whole evenings stuck on 70 Pine, High & graceful, full of close details And hard, recalcitrant materials Subdued as with the lightest touch of force. It Was Allowed My Uncle felt he had a role to play In my development, was up to date, Aware how much I wanted just to walk Beneath the architecture, take it in, Absorb the shock. He soon invited me To visit him; it was allowed, the old, Experienced sinner, as it goes, would take The young beginner through the streets, instruct His growing mind, & find a spot for dinner. Mom drove the Parkways down, the Wilbur Cross And wooded Merritt, artful bridges, yards Of old stone walls, half-sunk, & swiftly down The Hutchinson, across the Triborough Bridge, The mainland left behind, the FDR Ahead of us, & let me out at last On Maiden Lane, not far from Liberty, Where I was free to walk about a bit Before my Uncle would be done with work. My Uncle, call him Michael, if you like, Would focus eye for eye unflinchingly, His handshake firm, his form alive with age, If unassuming, never first in line, A spiffy vest, the tie fastidious, A prescient wit, a fellow striking for His wakeful mind, a sage New Yorker as You’ll come to find, if you’re inclined to walk. Chapter Three: We Stood Together A Boy, Cut Loose I took three steps that afternoon, my own, Into an open stream of giants, tricky, Thrown at once beyond my depth, on spires Gazed, uplifted, towers crystallized as myths, Their upper windows drenched in waning sun, The high ones shaken by repeated blasts. They’re built to let the top floors sway A little in the wind, I’d read. With hands In pockets, empty, poverty let out Amid so full a place, I am amazed To be at intervals exalted—thrilled To stretch my boundaries, New Haven boy Who lets it all rush over him, a stomach Full of butterflies—& dwarfed by hills Of brick & glass, the layering of works, And by the traffic at an impasse, jammed, Both under & above me, huge & savage Flashes, speckled crowds rebounding from The bridges & the tunnels, fragmentary, Leaking light through thick, entangled streets, Reflecting back the broken beams let through. As nowhere else on earth it could have been, That vertical immensity evoked In me what had a name I didn’t know, Sublimity, demolishing my sense Of time as myth & math become mish-mashed, Confused, the city’s mysticism, numbers, Themes, I have since mused, will wind up Interwoven seamlessly, the past That had seemed lapsed exhumed, the present made Composite with these adumbrations of Those other planes that hide beneath what has Accumulated, crust a consciousness, If pointed, can’t, won’t trust, but must divide, To strike at what’s bequeathed invisibly. My steps that day were startlingly real, Solitary: what did I or could I know or say? There in between, through open Doors, cut loose, you spot a boy, with eyes To see & mind to know, without a tongue To tell his fleeting joy, articulate His lasting woe, his fears, no words to say, Unknowable as yet, no end in sight, To match his sense how worlds move apart From him, or catch in sounds & images His wonder how immovable the vastness Of this lapidary vista is, Lithe as he goes beneath its glass heights bathed In shadows, nearly pulled against his will, Knocked underneath the stream, relieved to hear His Uncle’s holler, recognize that nimble Figure falling blithely forward down The block, a fitting sight, adjacent to The Chase Manhattan Plaza, mouth cracked open, Just about to speak, so that it seemed That incommunicable mass of folks Would part before his booming lawyer’s voice, As rock doves vanish hearing owls, "Who?" As Even Now I See Him As even now I see him move like sun Across the sidewalk, teeming crowds On every side, his specs of tortoise shell Reflecting back its beams, not snaking through, No idler’s pace. Topmost amid the din, Like Chaucer’s host, a light to counter dusk, Mercurial, he canters in his over- Coat across the tense, chaotic inter- Section, glasses slipping down his nose, As if a poet in his dotage, wrinkled Eyelids peeled, crow’s feet, looks cajoling All with wayward sighs, an "Oi?!", "Hello! What word have you? Make way, by God!" See his Umbrella brandished like a sword, a Stetson Set upon his brow he’d tip to nod And bow as ladies passed before & trod On by, his gaze unerring, like an elder Bird of prey, until his neck would twist no more. Glad To Know We stood together, thought which way to go Beneath the shadow of the Chase, a wall Of white. He said that Maiden Lane was where The women used to wash their linens, when The city was still Dutch, a tiny burg. Here Uncle started pointing out the sights He thought worth noting, memorable, that might Not yet be leveled when I’d guide a nephew Of my own in years to come. The first was right In front of us. You will be glad to know, He said, the architects who built this place Were active in New Haven, only on A smaller scale. Here, for instance, is A tie between a sculptor & an architect, New York & your home town, the campus there. Bunschaft is the architect behind The rare book shrine, a windowless white tomb, New Haven’s Beinecke, in which the frail Volumes are hermetically preserved, And this, the Chase (The Lever House as well); Noguchi is behind this Sunken Garden Set beneath the plaza of the Chase, As well as Circle, Cube & Pyramid, (The Sun, & Chance, & Time, respectively) Beneath the plaza of the Beinecke (Which Green Stamps paid for, unbelievably). Noguchi said that in the West the theme Is triumph over gravity, the rocks Themselves should levitate, or must be made To seem that way, those big black boulders lifted From the Uji River bottom, from Kyoto To Manhattan, placed in harmony. The space is circular, you see, with slopes Of brick. It’s dry today, but in the summer Fountain water makes them seem to float. He talked about Noguchi, who had been Good friends with many other artists known More commonly, was treated with suspicion After Pearl Harbor, Japanese- American. I have since learned he found Community at Romany Marie’s café, Was introduced by Constantine Brancusi, Sculptor whom my teachers always praised. Marie? A patron, host, well-known the world Around, who kept Eugene O’Neill alive, I’ve read, by feeding him, let youthful, weird Buckminster Fuller decorate the walls With livingry, where Joseph Stella also Ducked for shelter while he worked on what Would be New York Interpreted, the key Of which, The Brooklyn Bridge, was in New Haven, Hanging in the gallery up there, A building many loved, by Louis Kahn. Tangent on the Death of Kahn Kahn’s flowering was late in life & he Would die in debt, a New York heart attack (A public death, undraped, as Lowell’s was, A taxi from the airport, neither here Nor there, but in between, just short). Kahn’s corpse was unidentified for three Long days, recovered from a filthy station John, & not the old Penn Station, no, The new disgusting one. It’s difficult Imagining him there, allusive as The caryatid photographed amid The Meadowlands, a travesty to be So beautiful amid the dump. To think Of Kahn in no man’s land like that, a corpse Without a tag, would frighten anyone, A fate so hard, to even hear of it. Still, harsh as were his life, his ghastly death, Of little consolation to the man, He left humanity an afterlife In architecture, in particular That gallery I love, first visited When just a boy with pad & pencil, left To draw alone, amazed to see a Bosch Or Bruegel or, as in my adolescence, Afternoons in winter, I would sit, Not draw, & let myself go suffering Through Rothko’s hues of grief, those panes That open up like windows on his blood, Induced a state so bleak it was sublime. At The Crossroads The Sunken Garden, yes, Four Trees, as well, That shapely set of trunks, near shapelessness, The other sculpture underneath the Chase, By Dubuffet, so memorable, had been Commissioned by the Rockefeller brothers, Sons who from their mother learned just how And what to buy, with taste, to cultivate A certain eye, warned off of controversy By their father’s conflict with Rivera. David was the youngest one, the banker, Fed the press reluctantly that year, Because he’d used substantial leverage To intervene to save the Shah, on his Behalf the President gave in, to grant A visa to the Mayo Clinic, sparked, Or helped to spark, along with Kissinger, No doubt, it seems from here, the hostage crisis. Fault’s not found in one man but the few, Whose plausible deniability Is hard for folks to nail under law. Old loyalties are inextricable From royalties, you understand, the laws They’ve spun eviscerating other laws More just to those with little say. The types Of policies they have preserved remain To keep the few well-heeled & reward The years of service, propped on lower backs Repressively, on people’s fears, black-ops, The willingness to use the rack & stretch Resistance to its breaking point, defeat. Good news about the hostages was long In coming, as most folks recall. A year Would pass before a skilled Algerian Negotiated freedom for each captive (Ransomed for what price, one speculates, What promises aside from what was said?) Soon welcomed home with tickertape along The Heroes’ Canyon, glad to have escaped. Manhattan Company And Chase Manhattan, what of that, beneath Whose massive tower we were circumspect? From The Manhattan Company, way back, From Aaron Burr, competing with, against, The Hamilton monopoly. Few think Of Burr as hero on Manhattan through The War for Independence, or know how With members of the foot-guard he repelled The Red Coats from New Haven, more like Arnold In the memory, a turncoat but Acquitted. Burr, the legend goes, would be George Washington’s Iago, held a grudge When service wasn’t recognized, despite The fact he’d been at Valley Forge, that lamp So dim when everything was darkest. Years To come the Chief Executive would go So far as block the archives, Burr’s access Denied, to keep him back, prevent a book About the war, with him as author, one That wouldn’t be so kind to Washington, Or so one tale reads. The libeled Burr! Who formed the first political machine Complete with wards & bosses, tenements He leased to citizens fresh off the boats To push his chosen votes, the Irish fresh Across, their faces dirty, tongues on fire, Thick with sweetest brogues, a flowering Of folks to flood the polls, the populace To lift his plank, defeat his enemies, Put Tammany to use, but never joined. He died a speculator, as he lived, Whose leases couldn’t lift him out of debt, Divorced a final time, a second stroke (The first at Monmouth, day of bloody rout). The Chase? The Rockefeller Bank. They merge And merge again, you can’t keep up with them, In constant flux, acquisitively fixed. We took our time & sauntered off at half The pace I would’ve walked, with nonchalance, Up William Street, up William stepped to John. And so he guided me past crannied spots I would have missed if left to find my way Alone, spots vanished now, as if beneath The streets a parallel necropolis Was flourishing as he imagined it, As if the walls were flowering with tales. For instance Golden Hill, no more a hill, Round Cliff & John, where fields of wheat were sewn By Dutch, & bricks were thrown at Red Coats once By Sons of Liberty. No evidence Remains to naked eye. It was within A block or so of there that Tyler’s Contrast Played the sold out John Street Theatre To vigorous applause, which Washington, In all his manliness, is said to have Enjoyed enough to bare his ivory teeth, Not wooden as one learns, but elephant Or hippopotamus, like scrimshaw, carved from tusks, If I’m not simply being gullible. Older Scales Down Nassau then, we passed an imitation Florentine Palazzo, banking’s days Of glory, mounds of gold beneath, a pile Heavier than any floor could hold, On bedrock heaped, a trust, a sacred crypt, Eclipsed from gold of sun by wall of stone, The fundamental element of shine. I was absorbed in all I saw, & he Enjoyed the newness through my eyes, a boy In awe, as we proceeded onward, past The corridors of Pine & Cedar, names To summon forests full of them, plucked up, Cut down; & like a burr I stuck to him As we retraced our steps, digressed to points Northwest, as pilgrim spirits, pioneers Of the interior, so I could see The old St. Peter’s on St. Peter’s Street, Then Church Street to St. Paul’s, the oldest house Continuously erect, in use, downtown, Survivor of the fires of the past, Of mica schist with brownstone quoins, A portico & tower topped with what Was called the Lantern of Diogenes, Choragic Monument, design employed For Civil War Memorials, well-known. George Washington maintained a pew, Pierre L’Enfant left evidence of glory, Naming two who figure in its story. A third & final church awaited us, Down Broadway South to Rector Street, the head Of Wall, to contemplate the stony yard Of Trinity, the oldest yard around, The spire once the tallest mark downtown, Now dwarfed by all its neighbors, banks. We paused to make a note of older scales, Precincts of the common spirit prior To the elevator, heavenward Their exaltations focused on designs Unalterable, their altars blessed with gifts, The sextants ringing in the hours for The benefit of laborers whose patience Was their real skill, their will to be exact. We Saw The Grave And then we saw the grave of Hamilton. Most follow Hamilton, for whom some folks Assume I’m named (I’m not), while few Admire Burr, hear shots from Weehawken, The weakening of Burr, ironically, By death of Hamilton, with whom a party Wounded in the Whiskey Rebellion died, Burr’s shot its fatal blow, a Quincy Adams Grim reminder of a past that’s gone; And further off, hear falls of Paterson, The mills of industry that were to be, Passaic River, flowing with a voice Like William Carlos Williams, soothing roll Through his environs, younger than his years. I also think of Gore Vidal, his cutting Narrative, a kind of Mugwump’s, not Unlike Democracy, the novel, days Of out & out corruption, brawling, pillar- Biters trumpeting betrayals, treasons, Irony beyond their ken. It’s clear That Old Vidal knew Knickerbocker’s book, Revived as if by séance, bachelor Of searching wit, Ik Marvel-like but for The rigor of a devil that he brought To bear on what he sought, symbolic heir Of Brooks & Henry Adams, Ezra Pound, Repining in Rapallo, toughened, gray, American, an avatar of Irving, Breaks for smokes in William Cullen Bryant Park. Navel of the World Nothing in the latest advice from Wall Street Inclines me to give up my holdings in patient grief -Robert Frost We pivoted & tacked, crossed currents, turned Down Wall, the Irving Trust at 1, a kind Of counterpoint to Trinity; & reached That famous intersection, Wall & Broad, Possessive axis of securities. We saw the bronze of Washington, the work Of Ward, John Quincy Adams Ward, who cast The Shakespeare statue up in Central Park. The actor Edwin Booth, the "Hundred Nights Hamlet", Raised the funds performing with his brother, John Wilkes Booth, who would assassinate The president within a year. The play They staged was obviously Julius Caesar. Edwin Booth? He entertained a crowd beneath The ground, in Mammoth Cave, Kentucky, Just as P.T. Barnum’s Jenny Lind (That’s why Booth’s Amphitheatre). Booth’s Theatre Went into bankruptcy, but from his house At Gramercy he fed the stage. John Sargent’s Booth (I’ve only seen a print) still hangs in there. He passed down books, props, costumes, sets, To theatre posterity, as any Player knows (I cannot say I’ve seen, Unfortunately, his statue at the center Of that private park. It’s gated, locked To passersby, nor do I have key). We saw the Doric Porch, the Pantheon And Parthenon epitomized, a dome, The columns white as tusks or birch bark scrolls, Bleak rock, well-hewn, the architect named Town, Whose bones are buried in New Haven, Uncle said, Behind a large Egyptian pylon-gate. He said when Town was eight years old, His father having died, he moved Into his Uncle’s house, & fetched him books. Collecting books on architecture kept Him occupied, until his shelves could count Eleven thousand volumes, open to A younger set to browse like elephants Or thieves, those up & coming youths who saw Within the promise of an architect, The generations swallowed in those stacks. He taught the good ones how to learn themselves. Town’s Lattice Truss was his design, from which He made his fortune (easy way to build A covered bridge, like those upstate, such as The Eaglesville that spans the Battenkill, The planks diagonally fixed, the truss He patented before the Burr, that truss Whose fretwork often spanned the Susquehanna). We paused to look around that spinning hub Of antic bustle, point of leverage, Where Archimedes might have moved the earth, Remuneratively. And he explained In measured words how many of these folks We saw down here would call this corner Intersection navel of the world, Caesar’s world, as it were, his temple To the temporal, with all revolving Doors & vestibules & steps to haunted halls. So much is centered here, the trading pits, The firms of high (& low) finance, the giants Of the indices who’ve leveraged Themselves to reach a perch of dominance, However short their stay, however long Their wizardry (pay no attention to that man Behind the curtain, Dorothy) Achieves returns, eyes fixed to screens, their thoughts On fluctuations in the currency, The distant offspring of some numismatic cult With Mercury for patron, faces struck To mark the leadership in trust, amid Those shielded by checkbooks, wielding Their cash heroically, whose contribution Is to hedge the world’s bets for fees, That incrementally (if well-invested, Just as often not) may raise what will At first appear to be a lasting stash, A leverage that’s envied. Still, no wand In hand, no power to prevent stampeding When the panic spreads across the herd, A cyclical unraveling, that fall Like Humpty Dumpty’s, valuations found Absurd, the fundamental worth’s erased. Here wailing was heard on blackest days, The so called navel of the earth, the center, Never holds, leaves pummeled shares, a crash. As houses fell & cash went up in smoke, Men plummeted, some saw no choice but jump. Tangent on Morgan 23 Wall, old House of Morgan, propped The markets up, his seat on the Exchange New York’s Cathedra Petri, liturgy Of vatic traders heard between The opening & closing bells. A bomb Went off outside, the Great War just behind, But that was after J.P. Morgan’s death. J. Pierpont Morgan, master of the house That bore his name, a lover of the big Cigars, who puffed as much tobacco as Ulysses S. Grant & Samuel L. Clemens Combined, economies of scale, floated Bonds across the sea, a man of funds For storming through, self-conscious though, his nose Diseased, turned violent when photographed. He gutted weaker trusts, went through the fittest, Taught the world how to Morganize, And christened US Steel, controlled The girders & the nails, all of it, The beams & ties, monopolized the stuff Till Bethlehem spun off, some of his own. His preference was Clubs of Hercules, Havana, by the crate. Folks look to him despite A century between, his absence felt, A longing for his final word, for one Of regnant certainty, an integrated man, The only one who could’ve locked the doors & forced Accords by opening the books, an eye For cracks in the accounting, kept his perch In an apartment looking down on all The neighborhood, a bird of prey, His floor up there, the thirty first, At 14 Wall, his view beneath The seven story pyramid that marks Its pinnacle. The financier without A peer, Leviathan, collected books As well as livelihoods & companies. If you should seek a trove of rarities, His shelves will leave you overwhelmed, include Blake’s Job, A Christmas Carol, Dickens’ Manuscript of it, & many others Far too numerous to list, a host Of incunabula, along with swaths Of scholia, first drafts, the cribbed & crossed Out verses in their cradles, stricken lines With scribblings, revised, the palimpsests, The scrolls & velum codices, Embellishments, rich dyes, depictions of The scenes from scriptures, holy lore, motifs So crucial to two thousand years of art. One hundred years beyond the panic he Averted, narrowly, a renovation Lets some rays of light down through the roof. The architect, Piano, said That poetry would serve as metaphor For what he wanted to achieve, to add, Enhance that fund of prior skills displayed (McKim, of Pennsylvania Station fame), Made new, inviting. Walk up Madison Avenue through Murray Hill, when you’re Not rushed to reach Grand Central Terminal. J. Pierpont Morgan died in Rome, in bed, Asleep, a suite inside the Grand Hotel, Not far from plaques for Shelley, Keats, The Spanish Steps, commiserable man Of money, the invulnerable master, Mortal. When his coffin passed down Wall They struck the flags, the market closed two hours. His grave’s in Hartford, Cedar Hill, up north. Such Offices Meanwhile I was looking up the tapered Limestone trunk—topmost, as if a mast Or obelisk, or snowcapped peak, But gothic in its ornament, New Style— Of the tower at 70 Pine, its tip Encased in glass, an eagle’s nest from which, Clear days, Long Island Sound & all Five boroughs come within a glance, A tower far too tall to comprehend, Unutterably high, me openmouthed, Imagining myself a double looking down On sidewalk deep below: what would I have To do to occupy such offices? Another loomed: 20 Exchange Place, By Cross & Cross, the architects, who were Behind the Union Trust at Elm & Church, The one adjacent to The Green, New Haven; "Federal Vocabulary", "Colonial Revivalism," the cupola A counterpoint to the United Church, New Haven scale, height about a third Of any tower with a name down here (My father worked on the eleventh floor, From which the pinnacle emerged, topped off With little room, trap door hatched through its floor, A little dome from which the view seemed higher Than it is to me today. We rode The elevators when attendants sat In uniform on wooden stools to ask Which floor you had in mind, accompanied You up & down. The elevator stopped At the eleventh floor. There were three sets Of spiral stairs on top of that to reach The cupola & visibility). They also built the old GE above The dome of St. Bartholomew, same brick Of salmon color, tall & beautiful, Congruity, clear ratio of high And low, of crowning shaft & nave in scale. Then Uncle said, look up, a pyramid Should be its pinnacle, as 14 Wall, But then the Crash: they had to cut it off, The financing fell through, just like 11 Madison Avenue, what would Have been a hundred stories, equal to The Empire State, just stopped. You see it looming there, Gargantuan, Not unlike Bruegel’s Babel, incomplete, Its base too wide, no shaft or capital, Beside St. Mark’s (its Met Life replica), Old Venice scales zoned to boast "New York". Bossy Sculptures Beneath that tower, 20 Exchange, at Broad, We saw the bossy men of stone carved five To seven flights above the street, like monks Prepared to fight, anointed knights. They are like gargoyles in function, Altered for the world of the markets, Haughty gazes warding off no Devil But defying folks’ uncertainty, Strong-based, they offer permanence to catch A client’s lagging confidence. Look up, It almost looks like they are pissing down On us, he laughed, they’re readying to spray! There used to be a bridge right here, across The Broad Canal, Rialto of the Dutch, Before the buttonwood, the stock exchange That formed beneath its limbs. Down Broad To Beaver (trappers, after all, the first Economy, a boom in furs, top hats Of pelt or felt unpopular these days, Manhattan for the most part hatless now) Then Whitehall, off to Bowling Green, we saw A fountain there where George the Third once placed A statue of himself, erected as Reminder who was boss, deliverer From seven years of war (The French & Indian), That boss despised, despite his Roman pose, "Equestrian", the stoical Aurelius Upon his horse, a lapidary scrawl Beneath his majesty’s hyperbole, Before the people tore it down, the mob Had had enough, young Jonathan grew fierce, Took arms against a power seas between, To write the Devil’s Scripture over him And sing the chorus, "No more Kings!", awaken, Rise, throw off that old servility Forever, free to fall: his pedestal Creates a throne remote from common men. Let the world be taxed, & let it be Upon our backs, but let us vote this for Ourselves, no more imperial music. He’d been contemptuous, repugnant to The good of all, considered them seduced Into revolt by rogues & their attorneys, The ingratitude of commoners, Promiscuous, a mob. But see his jowl, Decadent & loose, his lazy scowl Fattened, tyrant’s gut distended, bilious And rude his haughty attitude, there cast In regnant form, embodied on the green, A kingdom fed on poorer backs, by tax— Until the mob with grievances up to Their necks, their patience lost, stormed through The citadel & toppled him, the king Beheaded (as at Whitehall, London, years Before, the regicides & Charles the First, Van Dyck’s heroic, mounted subject) marched The head in effigy through half-lit streets, Pure mayhem, like a tar-&-feathering, Burlesque, the noble horse & torso of The king absconded by the foundries, melted Down to bullets, sorely needed lead, The flintlock musket muzzles cold for lack Of ammunition, not for lack of will To ram the powder home & squeeze one off. A Tangent on Nast & St. Nicholas Later generations often found a way To overthrow a Boss non-violently. One tested way: the satirist was hard At work to sketch the vulture Tweed. You’ve seen The fat distended dollar signs corrupt Beyond what one would think was possible. It was that doubting Thomas "Nasty" Nast, His devil of a will to salt a wound, To pick a scar, expose & kill the tumor, Once it’s diagnosed, who brought the Boss Of Tammany, a fugitive, before The law, so long delayed, that officer So insolent, as with entitlements Convinced the courts can’t touch his bigger lies, The petty bully siphoning the dole, A hall the cost of which would overrun All but the boldest of imaginations, Gifting cronies with the phoniest Of grafted jobs, to show his gratitude, The finest of plutocracies for sale. With pen & ink Nast told a graphic tale, Scolded with the power of his art. You could’ve been illiterate, & gotten it. I’d say the real nastiness of Nast Was that he showed himself a Nativist Reactionary, hostile to the flood Of famished immigrants, said "huddled masses," Woe of Babylon, those saying Mass The worst, saw hassles in their muddled Latin, Superstitions, poverty, beyond The pale, crocodiles lurking in The murky local Ganges, "jack-tars, teagues," John Adams would have said, the refugees, Their cradles not filled right, but rocking forth With infants of the poor, no room for them. And yet old Nast was capable of grace Despite the teeth he showed to folks who would In time conceive, deliver me into Another century, alive & curious (I have inherited the earth). Nast must be credited, the prior charge Dismissed, the record struck, because Of mitigating art: he left a gift For all, the winter’s Nick we know, that sly Old elf of poetry, but sketched, The Santa Claus, St. Nicholas, up north, Victorious, avuncular as Irving. Department stores were next, the holiday Was launched in visuals, new customs fixed As old, antiqued newfangledness, till soon Nativities, the manger & the crib St. Francis filled, his cave of loving gifts (Who in St. Nicholas, the Church, would turn The Scripture’s pages to a single passage One, then two, & then three times, & by That sortilege became convinced the time Had come for him to be a mendicant) Would serve as window props for shop displays, Commercial saturation, till a child Was forgivable for mixing Nick The saint with Christ (or Old Nick for that matter) And for the fear he would be weighed, found wanting, Punishments his dole & not rewards, The father, most severe, & not the son, To dwell upon the thought He sees me when I’m sleeping, knows when I’m awake: I must Be good, or lumps of coal will fill my stocking, Scorn not gifts. In school I memorized Those lines by Moore (or just attributed To him, whose name I thought was "Clemency") Which we, along with Luke & Matthew, saved To read before the fire once a year While nestled in on Christmas Eve, "In hopes Saint Nick would soon be there"; or, "Behold, There came wise men"; or shepherds quaking, saying, "Now," to one another, "Let us go… & see." Chapter Four: Amid the Excavations We Had To Loiter Stone to Broad, our feet were tired now, So that when we had reached the lower row Of older landmarks, Captain Kidd was here, Where Pearl opens up the vanished slip Round Coenties Alley, where the water gates Once kept the port, & we beheld a school Of archeologists, conjecturing What lay below, my Uncle said let’s stop And loiter here a while, watch them use Their trowels. They were testing squares with screens Of mesh, a fellowship on hands & knees Like penitents, or like the children in A sandbox, playing on all fours, ordained To lift the veil of the intervening years, To peel off the layers, husk & rind, To find the past intact, the fruits in trust, Emancipate the ghosts that cling to things, The rust & char, the proof of fires singed Into the sediment, to realize The building of their dreams. They had their work Cut out for them, a loam of heaps to sift, Thin, veiled plies. Perhaps their staff would strike A trace of blood, rocks split, their scholarship, So accurate, would lead them to unearth A flattened stem of wrinkled time complete With tulip petals, or they’d be the first To touch some distant strain too long unheard, Too quiet otherwise, confined to dark, Amid the rubble & debris of Dutch And English hospitality, cut deep Into a theatre of crumbling walls, As Chumley’s chimney, bound to up & fall, And spill a history in broken brick As thick as leaves around a sycamore. No Stone Unturned, Had They The Time The residues would have to be wiped off And scrutinized, carved out, the clues scooped up And marked as evidence, though frayed. They said They’d leave no stone unturned, had they the time To take their time but they had not: their time Was limited, two months amid the moles To have those items out of hiding, reach The darker, deeper part. My Uncle, proud But almost sad, looked down into the heart Of what had been: remains beneath the lid Of piled earth that offers only hints. He beamed with envy at the way they seized The history & followed through, their cause A closer look, a keener sense of how The founders lived. He wished to stay & watch Them zero in & shovel out that pit Of clay, that clutch of ash, of shells & fill, The imperscriptible, considered trash By most, to reach, all hoped, the City Tavern, Walls & all, recover more than just Bleak rocks, but reach its cornerstones: to will Back into being what’s invisible Because of time, redeem by reassembling, What left no ruins to the naked eye, The tables where they coped with settlement, The topers with their sour ale washing down Each bowl of chowder, oyster stew, the first Manhattan City Hall, the Dutch Stadt Huys, A bar & inn & then the Hall, long gone. Or thereabouts, perhaps they’d excavate The Lovelace Tavern, artifacts you would Expect to date, the broken hands of clocks, The oil lamps & candles, soot, the draff Of firkins cracked, the work of carpenters, Discarded planks, reduced to splinters, tacks And nails, keys from locksmiths, anything At all, some oyster shells, could be concealing A rarity: the least of it was deemed Invaluable & called for their precise, Exacting scrutiny, a thankless task For them to undertake, so few mud-puddle Blossoms sprouting out of it, some flakes Of evidence for all that laboring. Possible Without Collapsing The first of many taverns, inns, the place Was shoddily constructed, verged close Upon the wharves, a brewery attached. The posts that shored it up were piled near High tide as possible without collapsing Into it, along the slip, canal. Now years come in between, so that you see The alley’s yards from where the flood tide runs, Manhattan having mushroomed round its shores With fill when shares on Wall have boomed. And then A cavity, half vacant lot, a wrinkle In the folds of time, a mix of gravel, Oyster shells & shards of bottlenecks, Of Piels, brothers once from Brooklyn, Reingold, Ballantine, the three ringed ale, And Ruppert’s Knickerbocker Beer, defunct (The beer that paid for Babe & for "The House That Ruppert Built," the Bronx, already fixed And renovated, soon to be demolished, New one rising in the neighborhood). Left fallow through delays, the 70’s, While financing went through, this level spot Was slated as the future site of an Enormous granite Global Bank. For them To excavate was inconvenient When time had come to build. The talks broke down, But the developers were forced to cease, Desist & let this fellowship commence Their lofty, humbling work, to ply & sift Around for those mute walls before the bank’s New tower rose into the sky, black windows Covered it for good, a bargain struck Where structures raised to last are razed before You even notice they’ve been lost, & just Beneath their surfaces? Some swear of ghosts, At least, possess a sense there’s more, unfound. Village Scale My Uncle’s flat on Perry Street, where I Would have a fold-out cot that night, a brownstone, Village scale, open shutters, shimmers Through my memory, a den of tomes, His mind a mansion crammed inside its rooms. Low stacks would serve as coffee tables. Feeble towers of law reviews Hung scaffolded neck-high along the hall, And two refrigerators, one for food, The other full of books, a makeshift shelf. So many pearls of wisdom seemed to be Clasped tightly in the spines & shells Of folios. He raked the cinders, kindled Fatwood, added oak & watched the fire Roar to life. He often cracked a large Encyclopedia to check a fact, But acted more enthusiastically About the mysticism packed in even Ordinary books, potentially. He spoke of the occult great readers past And present look to cultivate, who seek To touch a random leaf of text & deem A knotty code by stichomancy. Once He just picked up a random book & flipped With eyes closed through the pages, placed His finger on a word & focused there. The book was London’s People of the Abyss. He claimed it was as much about Manhattan As ostensibly on London, Issue of a soul once washed up on The rocks round City Hall, stuck down amid The lower strata. There were countless volumes, Knickerbocker’s, Putnam’s Magazines, The East Village Other, edges yellow, Thrown in ample boxes with The Voice. I saw his reading played a sacred role, As he would rock in his old Hitchcock chair, One book after another, arms unscrolled, The lamp with slightly tilted shade Illuminating manuscripts of notes He scrawled while reading with his pen. What Underlay the World Now pile your dust upon the quick and dead Till of this flat a mountain you have made -Laertes, Hamlet I came to understand what underlay The world for this old bachelor was books, "A means to the imagination’s grace," Each spiritual fact, great stacks of them, Like vines on trellises grown thick with fruit, Well-pruned, or like the trellises themselves, Brick walls, or pilings driven into rock, Or cornerstones, each binding structural, Each page a beam, each line a bolt, each word With loads to bear so that the heights might soar. The whole, in sum, looms greater than its parts, The planks of which soon sag with all the weight Of thumb-smudged paperbacks, their edges smoothed To roundedness, the bearded volumes thick With charms to sooth the hurt of things, to mend What falls apart through intervening years. He seemed to reach from shore to shore by dint Of will, by reading through, enchanting form, His little flat a great immensity, At home in any one of them, as snug As any oyster in his chair, or out Amid the neighborhood, a saunterer, As if a navigator monk, cut loose In coracle, the spirit’s distances Immense, the body’s limits nearer home. I see him thrive in some scriptorium, Some cloister where the clerics read all day And night, his own Iona, not yet sacked, Much brighter for the darkness bordering, The murdering that hems him in. I hear His rites of reading, like old liturgies To bear his emphasis, renewable, Enacted in the heart, condolences To one who with the words he fought through, fraught With energies he hardly understood, Returned a little smarter, journeyman No more, unraveling the lesser things He wrought for worthier ascents, from all This suffering a love that’s filial, What focuses a life of soulfulness, The hours spent lamenting him no waste. Another Death To Brave And soon enough, foreseeably, you’ve lost Another one you love, another death To brave, more ashes thrust into your face, More thoughts about the walks, forgotten nights, More dust to walk upon, to think of ghosts Of the departed, real as a dream From which you had no wish to wake, in which They breathe & blink again. I’m vexed at his Brown study now, as Ransom wrote, a poem Present in a half a dozen books, Anthologies, he gave as Christmas gifts. He left a stack of ancient magazines, A trunk he tagged for me before he died, A simple note attached to it, unseen At first, left hidden in the flat, that said "These items are for Ham, to be preserved." He made his living room, entire place, Hospitable to poetry, to keep A kind of purity at heart, in mind. The rest, as Hazlitt quotes from As You Like It, Is mere oblivion, a dead letter. Dear Old Lady Astir with questionings, surrounded by The evidence of history a cold December evening, the sky grown dark Amid the archeologists at work, I asked about the family past. Not once, But many times my Grandmother had said, You are an Underhill, & solemnly Instructed me how much it meant to her; You must remember this. On Christmas Eve She’d rub my hand & whisper tales, dub New York New Amsterdam, soon handed down Her trunk of books to me, a tree with coat Of arms, her theme lost cause, as works of Scott, Although I think that she preferred O’Henry (Who would sink into his cups at Pete’s, On Irving Place: the quiet lodger, author Of The Gift of the Magi, which concludes That those who give the gifts, they are The wisest ones, they are the magic ones, Their holidays are made of gratitude). I hear my Uncle laugh, repeating it, An Underhill… an Underhill?! Alright, I understand. But be forewarned, although Some genealogies are well & good, In that they shouldn’t be discarded, I Regard the most of them like some disease You have inherited a weakness for It’s best to keep yourself from catching, heel Of Achilles, kryptonite, you choose Your metaphor, third rail, flowing, flown, The past that’s dead, or killed, like neighborhoods, Or family wealth. And yet without some sense Of roots & branches all is lost. She gave Herself to dreams that would enrich the hurt Of poverty, a fate she hadn’t wanted, forced Upon her. So she sees him as a star That’s set apart from all the rest, that shows She can be proud of who she is, forgives The deeds of violence, remote from her, Through him a link to heroism, link For you to share with her, your ancestor. But she can’t hear his gripes & oaths, his Dutch Accent, too vulgar for her ears, can’t see His acts without the film of ancestry Distorting them. I hear his devilishly Acid tongue, see thickened skin, his mouth A dirty soldier’s. Helena De Hooch, His first wife: she was Dutch. The painter’s name But unrelated, I would guess. His sister: Petronella; daughter, Deborah; & by His second wife, Elizabeth, it’s true, You are a long descendent from that line Of Abrahams & Isaacs, Quakers fond Of tags from Scripture, farmers in their day. To Understand Her Origins At the flat he would’ve fixed his lamp On documents to answer. There & then His smile beamed on me with mixture of A gentle mockery & high esteem, Avuncular. He said that Royall Tyler Poked his share of fun at some Manhattan Pedigrees, John Richard Robert Jacob Isaac Abraham Cornelius Van Dumpling, Made up for that purpose, digs & jibes, A rise out of an audience composed Of Jonathans & Ichabods & just A few who’d seen a play or two before. Most thought they’d stepped into The School for Scandal. But for your grandmother, you’ll have to try To understand her origins, from Rye And Amawalk, Mamaroneck, White Plains, Ten generations undisturbed before The crash caught up with them, their world collapsed. She knew the consequences of great loss Because her youth was full of wealth but when She turned fifteen her father blew the last Of her inheritance, that Fall when Wall Was just another name for destitute. She had no dowry to rely on, found A naval officer, your father’s dad, And insofar as it was possible For wives of officers, she settled down. Something there was that wanted Wall Street Down… her father too, but they went on And she would dream like a Virginian Of lost causes, costs she just could not afford, And never bought a single share of stock, Just bonds & bank accounts insured for all Their worth: she was severely risk averse. A World in Another World’s Defeat Her Underhill, I know in retrospect, As with his portrait in the genealogy, Was fraudulent, but something wished for, Noteworthy hearsay. One of his descendents, CEO Of US Steel, went to London, full Of cash & gullibility to find A portrait of John Underhill. He found A gallery to look for one, to make His dream come true: a portrait to be hung With pride of ancestry, his Cavalier. The agent was inventive, slick enough To satisfy a need. He fooled him well, With something feasible. The Captain had Returned to London, 1638 To print his book, News from America, About the Pequot War; same year, same town, Van Dyck was hard at work on portraits of The English. I would add, New Haven had Its founding April of that year. So if You knew that Underhill was over there You might believe it was the real thing, What was in fact a copy of an old Van Dyck: the year was accurate enough, Believable, to lead the patron on, Although the real thing is hanging in Brazil, the "MAS-P", São Paulo. Grandma’s Underhill was consolation, Centered her. The Genealogical Society Concedes their portrait is a fake, But Grandma died before that revelation. She would open up the tree & say, Just look, you see, you have his nose. I’d say It was a dream that came from poetry Like Quaker Greenleaf Whittier’s, who held The heretic in high esteem, a man Who like his ancestors had paid the price For conscience, said of Underhill he was As one To whom the freedom of the earth Was given, alone with the infinite purity. He was the penitent who smote the heathen. In The Algerine Captive, Royall Tyler’s Narrator, Updike Underhill, descends From Captain John, a loyal fighter wronged. Some readers thought he was sincere & traced Their roots to fiction, one Benoni Underhill, made up by Tyler, claimed By old New Hampshire trees. They missed The spirit of his irony, the art Of Swift & Sterne & Fielding: the way They chose to disabuse the common use Of history, turned upside down, Revealing, as they amused as well, the worst Excesses of their age, where no excuse Is worthy to forgive the folly so Enthusiastically embraced. They would Provide relief from heroism, such Tall talk as walks about in brass & flaunts Its ugliest atrocities, remove The masks of those who’d oversimplify, repeat, The advertiser’s drift of history, Contrive the proof as from whole cloth, till folks Are cloaked in shawls of ignorance, lose sight Of who they were, or where they’re going, or Decide the truth is worthless anyway, Whatever it’s supposed to be, to whom. His character’s remote from what she would Have tolerated privately but he Was of Elizabethan parentage, Held famous for his ardent liberty, "The perfect man." You have inherited A world in another world’s defeat, My Uncle said, a myth that’s been prolonged, Captain Underhill, your kinsman. Yours to Build On And so while still amid the excavations, Tune of taxis husky through the cold And gusty canyons, crackling puddles frozen Underfoot, the dusky weight of stone Uplifted nearly infinite, the heights Turned overcast, blank slate above Our divagations, Uncle took my hand, Said never mind these crowds, let’s climb This tavern’s steps, though underage, I think You’re old enough, tonight, they know me here. I’ll tell you all about New Amsterdam, Old John. You know, he said, a bomb went off In here four years ago, but nobody Was ever nicked for it. They say a cannonball Burst through, beginning of the Revolution. He’d prefer a rocking chair, he said, To keep a swaying rhythm, even rhyme If time should lead his thoughts that way, recall The rhymes of history. I often drift Through stacks, my boy, through files full of halos, Warped with gleaming round the founders’ names, But their contemporaries were at odds, So you will learn you too must constantly Revise your understanding: they Were men not gods, so I advise you read With catholicity, be skeptical, Avoid the ease with which you see the folks Convinced to hotly take one side & fight On its behalf, the whole beyond the grasp Of comprehension, closed against opposing Points of view before they’re even made. I’m going to tell you what I tallied out Of litigations, long unknown to most, The dust on them grown thick, with nobody To guide me but myself, a labyrinth Of twists that form a pattern, opening To hosts of bibliographies. If I Disclose a fact or two along the way, It’s yours to build on in the years to come. A nephew passes down his uncle’s gift, Another uncle, to another nephew, lines That span the rift of years & go between. Chapter Five: Regard His Day The Devil’s Territories Look back on him: he looks forward to you, Your bleak, half-savage source. Regard his day. "The inessential houses melt away." This was before the dawn of office towers, Before the barges filled with garbage bound For Fresh Kills jammed the harbor, that great dump Had mounted to a monumental hill Of man; before the island known for years As Little Oyster Island grew by fill to be The Isle of Tears, or Ellis Island, as It is remembered, gate through which The multitudes would pass, their whispering The sound of gratitude; before The Rock Of Rikers was the world’s largest penal island, Noisy with the agonies of young Incarceration, bad narcotics, junk Withdrawal, locked too close for peace; Prior to Indian Point, reactor cores; Three centuries before immense peacetime Explosions, watched by thousands, cleared the rocks At Hell Gate; prior to the Hell Gate Bridge, A youth, from which the view is high & wide, You’ll see while riding on the Amtrak home; Before the European Starling was released In Central Park, in honor of the Bard, From eighty birds two hundred million, The Quaker Parrot (or Monk Parakeet) Became acclimatized; before the Park Itself was but a gleam in Olmstead’s eye, Was made to seem exemplary of that Which thrived before, cleared off, not quite A virgin land as some insist, but no Doubt maidenly, wild, difficult To cross, once called by old Divines The Devil’s Territories, where the devil, Irritated, lurked behind the thickets, Bushes, trunks, before irradiated By the Lord, Long Island Sound a woody Theatre of drumlins, eskers, cliffs And till, striations in the schist, Deep grooves, a kettle lake (that’s Ronkonkoma, Steeped in lore, the local ghost a girl’s Death) & terminal moraine. Regard A grassy stage of plots forgotten, cluttered Boulders, large erratics crawling glaciers Dropped while thawing, coils sloughed, great walls Of flowing slurry, gradually withdrawing Altogether: Glover’s Rock, Split Rock And Judge’s Cave (where Regicides would hide From soldiers), left behind in random places, Bordering on squelchy marshes, swamps, Fens, bogs, low tides that squirm, life now Extinct, the ossified remains, loose shells, The open spaces, meadows full of streams. The lapsing pulse of flowing water wells Upon the shallows’ rocks & splashes them, The tide once high retreats to low again, The screams you hear aren’t human screams but hawks. Before the Library, the Croton Reservoir, Its grave Egyptian walls of forty four And a half feet tall (you could parade Around the rim, spot Trinity downtown), Demolished for the coming stacks of books, Before the likes of Lenox & of Astor, Prior even to the farm that grew before The Reservoir, astonishing to view: A new world lay before those few who’d crossed. Worlds Thawed Imagine shallows sting with jellyfish (That’s not too difficult), the currents charge With bloated sturgeon, runs of salmon, schools Of mackerel, the shad & winter flounder, Bass & blues; the mermaid’s hair in strands Along each estuary shore. The forests fill with voices of the wrens And vireos, their floors a host of shrews And voles, with beds of acorns, worlds thawed When mild wind reverses off the littoral. The rivers figure as the arteries And veins of one great giant, nothing to Impede their flow but for the dwarfish beaver Lodge & dam, still free of mills. The blizzards tear the branches off, Form driftage for the beavers, thunderstorms And lightning strikes, the listless branches float Down stream in spring, until the silted mouth Collects them, like the sediment in bars And jutting necks, with prints from ibises, No taint of mercury, where cormorants Weigh down the boughs like overfed Philosophers, the shoreline caked with mussels, Periwinkles, channeled whelks In which you hear an echo of the Sound. Mergansers fly across the sky, mute swans, Oldsquaws, least terns & ruddy ducks, Where Onrust, first of European ships Entirely made of New World wood, Was christened by the skipper Block who sailed Restlessly, uncharted estuaries, noted Iron in the traprock cliffs that makes Them red to naked eye, described the faces Where the thermals waft the harriers Half way heavenward. Peruse a world Lost to us, once crowded out, laid flat, Rebuilt. Look back again: list catalogues Of zones of green to log, burn, warp, saw, whittle Down to scrimshaw pawns. Touch oak bark, peel Birch, the wire & the paper birch To roll for scrolls. Stir pitch until you’ve got A feel for it. Take a stroll, relax, Divide your shares beneath the buttonwood, Leave offerings beneath the shady yew, The revenants alive as evergreens With limbs that whistle in the winter wind. If you could smell so many types of pine! Not yet the countless coffins split & knocked Together, planks of former trunks folks lay In plots, the millions that fill the yards. Swing willow boughs, sniff foxy vines, cut elms For switches crack as whips of hide. Sketch ash, Catch locusts, loaf beneath a world of shades. Hear bull frogs leap about the lily pads, Snatch clouds of flies with nothing but their tongues. Sniff skunks in great abundance. Ospreys guard The windy shore, their hovering remarkable, Where golden eagles hunt alone, descend From nests in topmost crags, their nobler claims, Where Hobomock is known to hibernate. Examples Must Be Made It was too much for Dutch & English settlers’ Breathless eyes to ken, take in, in awe— Connecticut & Paumanok, the germ Of what you see now merged, concrete downtown, Not streets but alleys, crooked villages— Imaginations incommensurate With what they saw, without retreating from Those Devil’s woods into the Jealousy Of God. Ingratitude from traders, soon Much worse, their dwindling lot in broken talks, Coerced, their boundaries all crossed like streets, With streets, decorum intersected, scars And escalations, sanctity debased, In essence "Stuck between a rock & a hard place," The Lenape, or Delaware, were crossed Beyond all dignity, then massacred; Until the Siwanoy, among the rest, Chief Wampage their foremost warrior, Struck back. Pavonia & Hackensack Attacked, De Vries convinced to leave again, Anne Hutchinson & family were dead. Chief Wampage became Anne Hook: he killed Her but he kept her red-haired daughter, Stained Split Rock with blood, erratic boulder, Bronx, struck fear into the populace, Who fled into the fort. The Siwanoy Would raise that daughter far away From the New England Way, so that her fate Was called captivity, a pearl lost, And since not ransomed soon enough, they found The little girl hacked backed to the wild, Changed for good, preferred the Siwanoy. So burghers in their frightened meetings pressed For heavy business, wanted bloody beatings, Mercenary arms. Examples must Be made of insolence, they said—there would Be no mistake. They pressed their testy head, No burgess of the forest but a tool Of trade, to hire someone capable, For they were traffickers, not warriors, Those Dutch, so turned to someone clutch, a kind Of slugger to pinch hit: John Underhill. Useful with His Skill in Arms Captain Underhill, tall fellow, man Of errors, tales just as tall, prodigious In his lustiness, an Englishman In exile, veteran of brutal wars Amid the Low Countries, another of That stubborn crew of errant so-called Saints (Or fools) who crossed into New England with The Great Migration, eager, militant To build by fire, musket, prophecy, To quote the text, to level pike & apt Pericope, prepare for the parousia… He found himself accused of heresy. He had to flee, too controversial, To find a strand to call his own beyond The rule of orthodoxy. So it was With Mrs. Hutchinson, agreed, one mind Between the ministers & magistrates, That she should be cast forth into the woods Of Mephistophilis, a stirrer up Of strife, knocked home with snickering when she Was struck by fatal blow, the chief elect Of them convinced beyond all doubt she had Deserved her fate, her punishment at hands Of savages, mere analogues to their Interpreters, the Siwanoy contrived As figurations of an intervening Holy wrath, unwitting messengers, Forget about the deeds of Testy Kieft, The obvious, the plain & brutal facts. As she was driven off, so was the Captain, Tried & sent away, but useful with His skill in arms, he came to aid the Dutch, To rectify that blood spill, eye to eye. For news of Captain Underhill, who was The tallest, blackest messenger of war, Like wildfire, or disease, had spread Throughout the colonies, that he had burned The Mystic Pequots dead, their village ash, As Melville said, extinct as Medes (though, Of course, that wasn’t true: they’d resurrect). And thus for reputation one of flesh, And fierce, they granted him excessive use Of force, a proven quantity, to see Their errand run without remorse; They wished to entertain no second thoughts, So bought his services… The price was dear, Perhaps, compared to what they teach it cost The Dutch to buy Manhattan from their hosts. He Sped Up History The Wappingers would serve for sacrifice. Below a moon as bright as day, blue lawn Of icy snow, the very dead Of winter, Captain Underhill, Refractory, erratic, torched his foes, Their windy corpses black, all filthy air, Before an awkward squad of drafted men Recruited for that harsh occasion. Skin And blood, the hair, the smoke would sicken them. The Captain, like a demon, hectored all Those greenhorns dwarfed & cowering. Stentorian his holler, red the color Of his spirit, power rolling onward Unappeased, in him an army rose To lead the rest to arms, his opposition Crimson, melting down a trail of wrath, Triumphant marches, wakes. With Sachem heads On spikes, their flesh in shreds, mere paling Forms, he sped up history, Returned, awarded property, Where Trinity stands now, its yard Of stones, the head of Wall. But records show That he would sell it soon; no doubt old John Had found the place too much in town (Left all behind for Flushing, Oyster Bay). That Dig We Saw (St. Patrick’s Day 1644) And so that dig we saw, the City Tavern, Following the victory, or rout, Was Bruegel-lively: there they all unite Within a hazy hovel, warm & quaint And boozy, smoky from tobacco, flush With Dutch & English folks from up through Hell Gate, Round the Sound & down the Lower Bay, Bronx Kill to Kill Van Kull, from Fairfield down To the Isle of Meadows, Pavonia, And old Communipaw of fable. Underhill, beam in his eye, with ale Enthused, one set of knuckles bruised but resting On his belted hip, the other lifting High a frothy tankard, hat tipped back As if King David painted brashly by The clever Dutch who quartered him, Impatient for Bathsheba, nodding by The stove, about to lurch at any moment, Rash & unpredictable, too pissed, A contumacious man, commenced a prized Example of his etiquette, commenced A drunken incident. Suppose you’re there To watch the soldier swell with excess pride. In leather boots he points his spraying boasts At one or other cozy burgher’s face, Like ancient Pistol brags the world’s but His oyster, shucked by sword. He’s slurping down Two dozen, blows pipe fumes from boozy lips And harps on all his bloodshed, ceaselessly. You hear the kind of blusterer who rages On & on, about advantage of Surprise, a devil spouting out of spiteful Springs both praise & blame, the former For the Dutch initiative, the wisdom In their strategy, the fact that they Had nerve enough to hire him, the latter For the Dutch timidity with arms, That they had need of him at all, the traffickers. And thus worse than a fireplace in which The flue’s still blocked, the lout blew smoke all night, A gloating churl, his scurrility Without restraint, a cocky, slurring, drunken rant Concocted of the rudest words poured out, Like no carouser could, his exhalations Spirited, until at last he settled on This one demand: that those inside the bar Should raise a toast to honor him, who loomed In tested arms (tall talk): "Your savior, New Netherlands!" Sword Drawn, Lord Knows Everardus Bogardus, the minister On hand, his wife with him, one Opdyke there As well, ignored the blasphemous toast, ate on. The Captain’s noggin blossomed like a tumor, Focus reddened angrily, flared nerves. He yelled out they should join his toast And all that captive audience agreed Except for Opdyke & Bogardus, who Provoked by their refusal an attack From Underhill, who loathed the ministers And let loose tides of slander, hurled oaths: You’re countermanded by a stronger man! I have experience, you cowards. Enough! He was at liberty to have it out With them right here, that ruffian! Sword drawn, Lord knows, he wouldn’t be insulted by A Dutchman, or a minister, not both; And so he pounced, a wolf on huddled lambs. The din was no dull roar, but strength of chest In it, with throat of burly colic gusts, I mean this was a tongue-lashing, a host Of caustic threats, those soft mixed colonists Appalled, with dropping jaws, left dumb, while he Grew angrier, his right hand man, as drunk As he was, Baxter, offering his share, Their drummer boy bombastically in time With them—drunken momentum, shattering With sharpened arms the mugs of clay, dispersing Many guest who hadn’t gone. The folks Agreed: he was an ugly customer. The hostess pleaded, Captain Van Der Hull! Oh won’t you let us be in peace, just take Your ale & go! Don’t slash the drapes, don’t dash The cups, don’t ruin us… But no. Too drunk, Bewitched & ravening, induced to fight, His scabbard in his left hand, sword held firmly In his right, he swore aloud, you would Cast stones? Beware, clear out of here, I strike At random now. These hands, provoked, break necks. The guards were sent for as the uproar grew, And came, but did no good, just met with his Same insolence & laughter, threats to go Ahead with bets & watch me kill you after. Beery losels, slumberous bores! What kicks To watch the smoking burghers squirm! It seems Ignoble, but to Underhill? The kind Of fit for which old surly, braggart John, The hired soldier, could be proud, to mock The dainty traffickers & spit at will. Grace Abounded He must’ve loved to glower overbearingly Upon the stiffened minister & frighten Off his chastened wife, as if Old Scratch Himself. He stuffed his pipe full of another Guest’s tobacco, knocked the plates & bottles Off the broken shelves. Bogardus was Insistent, call the Testy Kieft, Director, Have him clear away the backslider. Most having fled, too few of them were left To watch, or later testify, & yet At least one witness swore John Underhill Rebuked Bogardus, hollered, Kieft, that fine, Just let him come & see. I’d rather share Some words with him than with the rest of all You devils put together. Nothing left To break, & nobody remaining in His broken wake, the hostess swept the shards And shells in piles, dumped them in the back. He spoiled every meeting, blasted through That fellowship. The folks would leave for home Exhaling a tale of a vandal’s crime. Though grievances were filed, sources some Historian might cite, I won’t, he failed To appear in court. In brief, he flew To Paumanok, profound belief in his Own faculties unshaken, stretched And basked in sun. Old soldier, reprobate, Fierce, gentle magistrate; an arsonist, A profligate, a rounder; hale granted Use of force, the elements so mixed In him it’s no surprise he struck assurance Grace abounded in his case because He smoked rank weed, tobacco, prayed Into his pipe, a farce, before the rank And file orthodox of Boston blubbered Forth a fraudulent retraction, frothy With conniving, having travestied Their Holy Sabbath Day. He locked the door To pray in privacy—as in Vermeer’s The Soldier & the Laughing Girl—with one Whose spouse was seven months at sea, The gossipers suspicious on her steps, No choice but stray again from colony To colony, a hired man. And though I do not know the selling price, he sold, I’ve read, the House of Hope near Hartford twice, A place the river’s course has eaten up. He scoffed down what he found of ale, Clams & eggs, & never fail, wed Into the family of his nemesis, A younger wife in later life, a maid Of higher station from a Quaker congregation, Softened by another generation, Rover flanked by tribes of children, wound Up fattened as a monk, at last moved on To Locust Valley, weighty friend Of the Matinecocks, from whom he gained His deed, his yard, his Killingworth, A shout from shore on Oyster Bay. His heritage, the Sound, a theatre Of war, stretched wide before, he yawned Then swore out God & slipped away. For this he may be crowned American. * * * A note to add: in 1907, The same year as the Wall Street Panic Morgan Wrestled into order, Underhill’s Descendents raised a goodly sum to build, Beside a cedar tree at Oyster Bay, An obelisk of granite (Hallowell) Surmounted by, in bronze, a ball to which An eagle clings, an emblem of the line From Warwickshire that crossed the sea & made America their claim, commemorating Captain John, the founder of that line. To mark the dedication, Roosevelt, The President from Sagamore, next door, Came by & used the family to stump For "equal opportunity", as they Used him for notoriety. Among The guests was Francis Townsend Underhill, Who’d ridden up the San Juan Hill abreast Of Roosevelt, achieved some dwindling fame In Montecito, California, For horseflesh, yachts, & landscape architecture. Roosevelt, behind the Great White Fleet, Soft speech, big stick, announced: I have no use Whatever for the man the best of whom Is underground. There is an Underhill In every walk of life; I wouldn’t be Here otherwise, my fellow Long Islanders. Chapter Six: They’re Holding Up the Holiday A darker, ruder pilgrimage… An exhausting & uncertain effort For something more substantial, elevated -Whittier My Uncle Seemed to Follow Me That Night All this was a long time ago. Perry Street, Where Uncle had his flat, has not changed much. But others occupy it now, so that I rarely veer that way because I know I’ll feel hollowness, a smoldering Despair: since he’s been gone it’s just a street, Or worse, a haunted area, what hits Me hard an absence felt as hurt, what won’t Return to how it was, forever lost. And yet my Uncle, never mind the flat, Is felt as presence too, that’s unconfined, And as I summon up that evening The talks broke down, the strike began, I’d swear My Uncle followed me around that day, I had discovered something old but new To me, a world shared between us though Such matters are irrational. I think It’s not too far a stretch to say that he Was an unhealed wound I have redressed For his avuncular inheritance To be passed down, as if he patiently Expected my return; as if hence forth Into posterity in debt to him And not to him alone, I know I must Invest myself in him, return the favor, Saunter further on without a guide Like him again, his gift to send me off, Once gone, from opening matured, his line Of argument a bit over my head, Enticing me to learn his terms, pursue Some line of inquiry, somewhere His ways of learning pointed towards, Unsettling, the end of which was through Another labyrinth unknowable Without the willingness to suffer means Of change, pass through & reappear, as if The ordinary never seemed so strange. I have continued to swerve off, step free, On other nights since then, avoided rushing Home to meet my poverty, again, Refused to go unthinkingly, would not Knock under it, the stream of market crowds, That great deluge, but halt, as grinding gears, And watch folks fight for first in line, regard Profusion not for me to share, the flash Of outward forms impelled impatiently, But cut across the currents, as that night I waded through assembled forces, murky Stretches far beneath the mammoth banks, Benighted stone, went plunging on with no Expression, waiting for a sign, until I saw a brass plaque marking out the ex- Cavations we discovered on our walk, If wanting to, a night that I could not Forget, December 1979, Where Broad & Pearl open up, the old Canal & slip, the navel of the early Settlement, a venerable spot To pause & contemplate the history. They never found the City Tavern’s walls, For all the tribulations they endured, Though you can see the Lovelace Tavern there, Beneath the grates, perhaps hear whispering, The old brown porter poured to quench A thirsty grief, tobacco smoke puffed out, The regulars who would be called to arms, In disbelief: mere fragments of a wall Do not a tavern make. I tread this dust And think of all the wares once hawked round here, The stock & surplus narrowed down to this. Some artifacts from ordinary life Were found intact, some pewter spoons they used To stir their tea, mature patinas, pipes And onion bottles; but beneath a slab They struck a deeper fosse, a well, where souls Around more than two hundred & fifty years Ago would draw up water, clean, cool, pure, With yeast to scatter, start another brew. Cold shade, too dark: no sunlight ever hits But fleetingly, aslant, beneath that bossy Granite global banking dragon lodged So heavily above that layered spot Of old Manhattan times, that cut Stone Street in half. I crossed the street & stepped Into the tavern where these memories Unfolded doubly, modified, where I Commenced, reluctantly at first, in notes, To draw up prints in lines still tentative, Because I felt a duty was incumbent: Raise him up, remember once again. Allure of Holidays Recovered Uncles would be jolly -Dylan Thomas A wreath hung from the glass & wooden door, Thud shut, the lintel tricked with mistletoe, The pearly berries swaddled in its leaves. A sudden heat & I was in the hall. For holidays they cut a tree, decked richly, Ornaments from bough to bough, up to The star, topmost. By glow of voices guided, Murmuring, I crouched beside the hearth, The Balthazars & Melchiors of wine Matured & racked in caves, Gargantuan Those bubbly gifts, repressed by cork & wire, Curve of glass reflecting back the flames, Mid evidence of routs & ravening. It’s quieter than recent memory The servers must admit. I think of him, That night, his furrowed, lapidary brow; One glance: he takes you in his confidence. He would convey his gratitude for this As well, a hint more than coincidence He can’t confirm, a man of subtle mark To comprehend your growing mind, a kind Of friendly ghost to mend the dark. I wish We could have aged together. No such stroke Of luck, his death was sudden: I won’t let Him dwindle now, will go so far as say He’s with me still & I’m the boulder tough To budge which mentions him, that says To all who hear, his dignity abides In me, revered, well loved, beyond The shadow of a doubt a soul upright, My star that dwells within, but far apart, Maintained, my origins aligned with his By threaded twists in spirit, sturdy knots, As hearing him recite from Hamlet by The mantle Christmas Eve, that swath of text About the "bird of dawning": wholesome… Hallowed… gracious is that time." But then The carols from the radio break in, Derail this, a marathon of such Familiar tunes it’s hard to tune them out, Especially when one has lyrics close To the emotion of this lonesomeness, As when tears surface & escape against Your wishes, listening, evoked by one That sings of "cloven skies" through which we see And hear "the angels hurl". The weary world, Glad below, so long fatigued, enjoys Relief from suffering, songs lodged "On hovering wing", descending as The angels bend above the world’s "Babel sounds" (That otherwise surround) to do their singing. Here are words that captivate, I would Have liked to write myself, so jot them down: "A man at war with man hears not The love song which they bring. O hush The noise ye men of strife & hear The angels sing… Beneath life’s crushing load… With painful steps & slow… the weary road… The ever-circling years… the day Foretold… send back the song which now The angels sing." I will remember it. I’m on the Fence The way the shadows lengthen, night grows long, I think of Sloan’s McSorley’s, "Ash Can School", Raw onions, dusky mugs of ale, pale Cast of thought, the wary ones, the bar Thinned out, stares sapped & withering: are these The sons of revolution or of pleasure? Nearer to their voices I can hear They are disputants, cracking wise, a pair Of wakeful brains, their jawing tongue in cheek. In fact they are negotiators, eyes On Seven News, closed-captioning, the bar Their hiding place, their voices loud enough That soon they have provoked the bartender To speak his views, philosophize, address Their transit strike. I hear his sigh let out Like pressure from a radiator, steam. He frowns, as if to say, I learned the things I know, but no degree was earned, just lines Of worry, wincing over bitterness Of hops, the bitterest the most preferred. He speaks at last: You want free sense—the strike?! Three days at tops, no more. You disagree? I know, I know, you would prefer to hear "Good News," read headlines coined for all, "The Union Wins", a victory deferred For long enough. I love you guys, I do, But there won’t be a revolution—not Tonight, tomorrow night, at all. The strike Will draw its final card, cave in, both sides Agree to settle for a very little gain. Or brace yourself, you might get fleeced again, Nobody knows, not even you. Would be A stroke of luck beyond what anyone Expects for you to win. Should hell freeze over, Your demands get met, but here & now, The best scenario? The board will shell Out just enough to buy some extra pints Of beer, a token bone gets thrown your way, But not enough to please your wives, your kids, The kind of benefits, the coverage You have in mind. There’s nothing to be done. You want the mine but wind up with the shaft. I wouldn’t want to spend my shifts beneath The ground, hell no, I sympathize: The life expectancy is low, the cost Of living high, the daylight minimum, The air obscure, no windows, fireplace Or door like mine. I can’t complain. And now They’ve banned tobacco smoke in bars: cleaned up The inner air so I breathe easier, But underground? It’s brutal, just too dark. Some folks cry foul, call it lawlessness, For you to strike this week. I understand You throw around the power that you’ve got, But folks have bitched & moaned a lot. "They’re holding up the holiday," I hear, Bold move, unfair to everyone, the poor Especially. I’m on the fence, would fall In line with you because I know you need To live, but draw the line between us on The choice of when you force your hand. Just look At me: I serve, I’m honest, but collect No bonuses except for tips I hope Grow fat as geese this time of year, each bit Contributing, a little extra all Around, but now, who knows? Ingratitude? I won’t be splurging on the latest toys. The taps slow down & then don’t flow at all. Tonight, the next few nights, I will enjoy No "seasonal munificence", last call Won’t be that late; I’ll have to pay a cab. But Linger On But linger on until we close, he said To them, & turned & said to me, or when You choose to go, just range around The darkened passages, the architecture Vacant, nobody but you, the windows Blank, the towers lodging only bits of light. The world turns to glass despite its weight. And he elaborates: You see, without The bridge & tunnel crowd? Sheer vacancy. Manhattan folks may dump on them, but here We are, like Sabbath night on Wall, just look Around & listen closely, silence, weird, The elevators open, grounded in their lobbies, Empty, soundless as the grave. I hear the groan of cruelty released A little while, weight above put down. He says, You’d roll before each door a stone, Tonight, tomorrow night, I swear, no one Would care, just sober talk like this between The longest silences, & even Broadway, Still. So many cross to reach this island: Their imaginations make the place. Fact is these thoughts are not original. As you walk down the steps & out, you’ll know I’m right, spot buildings, streets, but not a soul. It’s something beautiful, or rare at least… Down in the Heart I stepped outside to roll a cigarette Before returning for another rum, more talk, Enjoyed the silence, spirits fled from zones Held sacred, streets like naves & crossings. I Should have agreed with him, it’s beautiful And rare down here: this vacancy would be Our poverty if solitude & quiet Were no more than that, mere emptiness Instead of layered worlds, flowering, If only one should quickly look below, And longer, but I kept my mouth shut tight, No Shelley cited from my buttoned lips. This kind of cold is purifying, for A while. Think, this is New York, downtown, And nobody is here. It’s serious, Engravable, between two dispensations, Winter’s start, the solstice round the corner, Shortest day & longest night, the light To wax from here that was diminishing Since June, the zodiac in cusp, just days Until the holiday, a strike, & there I am, one full of love, down in the heart, And wondering how these old streets that cross To make the navel of a world—point Around which countless fortunes turn, roulettes Revolving, canyons jammed in such profusion In between the bells—could bate & dwindle, Wind up void of folks, a deadening, A cornered solitude, a few stray honks, Funereal, no neighborhood to mourn. This spot was thronged, now kithless, lorn of pulse, It is the emptiest of theatres. I know it has been gutted many times, Will be again, torn down, a lodge of ghosts. The lamps against the dampness of the ice Give off a glow, as in the lines we learned When very young about St. Nicholas, The moon, the breast of newly fallen snow, The midday luster, objects below, with nothing To dread, as when these chimneys aren’t only Kindling light & heat, with logs to knock For sparkling harbingers, but changed into Those thresholds children glow & dream beneath, About to hatch great troves of gifts, such gifts, So magical, as opening they grow To see, wide eyes in awe that won’t quite last. Although aware no belly (bowl of jelly) Ever fit through any stout old hearth, No larger star appears with pearly glow This time of year, I can’t help think of lines Forgotten once before: were I to hear Somebody say, "come see the oxen kneel," I’d want to go with him "into the gloom." Another Voice The emptiness surrounding me is like A silent gift that’s well-received. I hear Another voice invade that void, return To me, twice told: Shrewd lad, go, rise without The help of all those kin, enough of this Reflecting back on disinheritance, The nightmares others dreamed & lived. Arise From yards of stone, the past & all its lists Of cruelties, ancestral weight of wrongs. Go celebrate long nights of solitude, Revere yourself, though balked & dumb, your thoughts On what’s to come. Remember blood was spilled, But leave behind the boasts of ancestry. I know, as Uncle, even Underhill, Though retrograde, confronted, stared down at Some point: "the I & the Abyss"—as if A turkey vulture circles overhead, Foreshadowing what’s dead— Must come to pass but can’t be shepherded. This is the poverty of one who would Call out, respond in kind, but dies A little bit instead, the wind too cold To bear, retreats inside the heated bar. Lost For Good, Pass Through In retrospect I should have raised my voice To make a point, once back inside again, But feared that fellowship (so few remained) Would find my musings strange, to say not just That night, a strike to clear the narrow streets, But other nights as well foretell by fits And starts a bathos mocking all decorum. Promises of height sink back into Obscurity, indebtedness, once funds Have wavered, petered out. The founders come To suit the opportunist’s plank, who finds No heroes worthy mid the living ranks. These degradations leave the poet stressed And questioning their thrust: so short a lease, No matter what enthusiasms rise From him, his musings have been battered, sapped Beneath these weighty heights, such mighty walls, But ultimately insubstantial, lost, Decaying or demolished. In my youth I walked down here & drew the world I saw, But older now, the truth cries out for words. I pass beneath these glass & granite wastes, And think of cutthroat orgies, quarries mined Up north, great mountainsides reduced to pits To raise these towers, as St. Peter’s rose While Caracalla & the Colosseum Suffered gutting. Sun cannot get through, The air grows thick enough to smother one Who pines within this shade, who would conceive Some worthier ascent, whose sense of place Is not diminished by the vanishings, The next development to rise & fall. He plants his feet surveying, sees from here A neighborhood, years down the road, a place To dwell on fitting words, not just the thought Of prospects narrowing, the push & shove, Impatient offerings, but folks unrushed; Not just these valleys of affliction, flights Of haughty reach, beyond, above the means Of one too poor to take a cab, whose wealth Is in his walking mind, awake, whose debts Will hound him to his death, but such a place As lends an order to these arguments He overhears within, & all those voices Silencing his mind, surrounding him, Until he knows he’s lost for good: pass through Unseen, unwept, you are a ludicrous Descendent of this shore. You hear yourself Begin to swear aloud, I pledge like Scrooge, A renovated man for all the ghosts He met that night, to make all three, the past, The present, & the future, thrive in me, My captive’s ransom vested in this gift Of love, if wrapped but meanly, still, alive, Compounding ventured interest, as an Avuncular inheritance that starts Once dust’s on toys, wish-lists disintegrate, A boy sets out to earn his origins. The Prints Fulfilled I know those up are thrusting down to keep Their status sure, those down must pine away, Their wish to undermine those powers, see Them tried, & wanting, overthrown. Nobody Isn’t striving, forced to serve or serving Force to squeeze a living from this stone. Head over heels, fired, raised, unsure? I watch the glossy speculators shake A stage of glassy offices, evict The unlamented history, short sell, A plaque, or less, a faded scrawl to tell What lies below, left islanded amid This overwhelming shade, you’ll notice if You chance to look. If you have ever felt Alone to death down here, then heard a voice Within defy that fear, your suffering Will not have been the cry of vanity, But harsh restraint, true veneration. You Have found your understanding: devastation’s Never over, nor the renovation, Futures sprouting from these fretful straits, Tall stalks. The cranes rock back & forth like cradles Off the topmost limbs, amid the scaffolds Cling, precariously swiveling (Some boughs do break & crush what’s in their path Below) with beams to raise in place. Each lift Goes hatching other stories, settled on The prior ones, as shadows stretch beneath, Or will, the architect on hand to pace About & double check his scrolls, to see His final prints fulfilled, the legacy A skyline altered slightly once again. The watchful catch a pendulum in swing, Neglected works decaying, singled out, As cutters smooth the coarsened surfaces Of walls once worthy love, if long ignored, Remove the grime, the crust accumulated Over time. If watchful you may catch This struggle waged with nothingness, the likes Of which you wish should never cease To call for your response, amid these haunts, These rounds, to hear your footsteps, questioning. Epilogue Apostrophe from Ham to nobody, Or you, who live & breathe Manhattan, Fit & noble fellowship, who care: Had I three thousand tongues I’d still prefer Speak softly, touchy with each phrase, redress This call with whispering responses, only Make it very clear: I sometimes hear, Mid taxis rattling, through terminals Of flighty crowds, beneath the clattering Of buried trains, the broken ornamental skin, The onion fumes; mid hidden middens Of Matinecocks, as good as deeds Or coin to founders leveling their rounds Down here, those shells like buried teeth; I hear, sometimes accusingly—as in A crisis, when I’d seek to clarify Or dare at odds to say what even matters, Dare respond to history, the news That stays & won’t be put aside, abides Beneath the roar of jets, the drag on wings, The swing of cranes, erratic knocks From wrecking balls, etcetera; Hear bedrock echo back: "Deserted… Petra." * * * Santa Barbara, Dec. 2005- September 1, 2008