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The Mysterious Human Heart in New York

December 22, 2010

What with awards ceremonies and other end-of-the-school year events, we’ve been up early and to bed late and I’ve been seeing all sorts of people I rarely see in between. One of them told me he’s trying to “cut through the Gordian knot” of kid sports and school schedules so he can come with us to take a road trip through the inevitably predicted rain to the most crowded part of a nearby city tomorrow night.  As my friends used to say about spending too much money getting to the beach, it is a highly inadvisable thing.  And yet, well nigh irresistible.

The inimitable poet Dorianne Laux says it best, in her poem “The Mysterious Human Heart in New York,” which is from her new volume that I’ve already touted here once, The Book of Men:

Streetwise but foolish, the heart
knows what’s good for it but goes
for the dark bar, the beer before noon,
the doughy pretzel hot and salty, tied up
in a Gordian knot. It takes a walk
through Tompkins Square where
the homeless sleep it off on stone benches,
one shrouded body to each gritty sarcophagus.
The streets fill with taxis and trucks,
pinstripes and briefcases, and the subways
spark and sway underground. The sun
is snagged on the Empire State, performing
its one-note song, the citizens below
dragging their shadows down the sidewalk
like sidekicks, spitting into the gutter
as if on cue, as if in a musical,
as if there’s no association between the trash
flapping against the chain link and the girl
with her skirt up in the alley. When the traffic
jams on 110th–a local pain, a family affair–
the Starbucks junkie leans against the glass
and laughs into his hand, a cabbie
sits on his hood and smokes, cops
on skates weave through the exhaust,
billy club blunts bumping against their
dark blue thighs. Everyone’s on a cell phone,
the air a-buzz with yammer and electricity
as the heart of the city pounds like a man
caught in the crosswalk holding his shoulder,
going down on one knee, then blundering
into Central Park to lean over the addled bridge,
the sooty swans floating under him, grown fat
on cheap white bread. Oh heart, with your
empty pockets and your hat on backwards,
stop looking at yourself in the placid waters.
Someone is sneaking up behind you
in an overcoat lined with watches,
and someone else is holding a cardboard sign
that says: The End Is Here.

Sometimes your heart feels better when you do what you know is not good for it. As the parent of a high school senior, I would desperately like to tell my heart to go ahead, spend more time “looking at yourself” instead of having to pay attention to the way the doomsday sign is “sneaking up behind.”

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One Comment leave one →
  1. December 22, 2010 11:50 pm

    Hi, this is a comment.
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