Odysseus in New York
Have eight long years already passed
since I chronicled my neighborhood last?*
Drunk on the lotus of the everyday, Lotus Eaters
I forget a lot, I’m embarrassed to say,
as I to-and-fro from home to job,
and back again: buses… Ubers… yellow cabs…
work crews… peddlers… ubiquitous bling…
all of it a blur. One autumn morning,
a suited windbag flashes her Mini Aeolus
in its fancy case, blocking the sidewalk,
unleashing chaos and killer squawks.
Swerving to avoid her, I’m whiplashed
by the whoosh of her spluttered gall.
“The deal went south. And it’s your fucking fault!”
At Union Square, titans of Action-Chess
who challenge all-comers, five-peso bets,
near-street people, but graced by the Royal
Game, get personal, going jaw to jaw,
a turf dispute among the poor. Laestrygonians
Don B. gets in the face of Bobby F.
as if he’s about to bite off his head.
Says the latter, “I don’t need your shit, bro!”
He topples B.’s board, a cardinal no-no.
Before blood can begin to flow, Boris,
even bigger than the other men,
steps in-between, restraining them
with his massive hands. “Cool it, doods,”
he commands. “You’ll queer the peach for all ov uss.”
Reluctantly, they subside. I proceed
on my way, hopping down the subway steps.
Behind me, words of conciliation.
Inside the station, atrocious Feng Shui.
Hordes crisscross, missing each other
by reluctant inches. A band tunes up.
The doo-wop singer sounds like my cousin,
dead now for decades, but, in the Fifties.
the fat white hope of Wingate High. Ghosts of the Underworld
With Jerry’s sweet tenor flooding my mind,
I see double. A tandem of black guys
morph into Connie Hawkins, Roger Brown,
rivals in the High-School Hoops Pantheon.
Brown scores, dunking litter into a can.
Catching a downtown “Q,” I’m off to Crooklyn.
The train is crowded. A brassy dame
rubs up against me ostentatiously, Circe
pole dancer nouveau. In my fantasy,
she works for Darlene’s Rush Hour Services
for Gentlemen. Darlene: that posh meretrix
who authored the X-rated best-seller,
Tightly Packed Pants: The Geisha From Hell!
I read it twice, hiding it well
so that my wife would not opine
I’d turned into a filthy swine.
Never mind. I’m with that Saint What’s-His-Name.
“A man may lusteth after a woman,
so long as he kepeth his yerde in his pants.”
Lady Circe exits at Canal,
though not without a malediction,
punctuated by a parting wink:
“Yo, jerk! Have a shit day!” She caps it
by adding, “You lame-faced, sorry stiff.”
A new crowd gets on. Between butterballs, Scylla and Charybdis
I fear becoming two-dimensional.
Ten minutes later, I reach De Kalb.
Dusting my coat, puffing myself back
to three-dimensionality, I pop
up to the street and sprint to the job.
Inside, I toss my coat onto the rack,
and I’m greeted with a smile by Callie, Calypso
my cute young secretary, sweet on me.
Having railed against corporate suits,
let me explain: I work for an outfit,
a small NGO, that keeps my skirts clean,
paying a better-than-living wage.
After eight hours of reports and meetings,
with a wink at Callie, I leave the place,
and, snagging a seat, doze on the train.
Back where I started, Union Square,
I see that the chess players are still there,
soothed, or exhausted, by their long, dull day,
or convinced by Boris that fights don’t pay.
Someone is texting, blocking the exit.
Tired, still, I allow him to exist.
Through the misting air, I wend my way home.
The doorman-shepherd’s busy with his phone. The Return to Ithaca
Upstairs, scratching the rash on my face,
I unlock the door to my place.
My wife’s voice, from the living room,
suggests that she, too, is on the phone.
I creep to the bedroom, subside, alone,
onto our soft old bed, connubial.
The nest is empty, our boy’s off at school,
but my dad, who’s difficult, may move in,
since his frailty occasions frequent falls.
I hear a bright voice as I doze off again:
“It’s time for you to end this enmity, Athena descends
time to treat your father as a friend.
Bind up old wounds with filial piety!”
* This poem is a sequel to “Odysseus in Manhattan,” published in Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review,” Fall, 2008.