Since I'm relocating to New York for the next five weeks starting tomorrow, today's selection is one of my favorite poems about New York. I first encountered it the summer I worked as an intern at The Poetry Center in Chicago, where I was tasked with listening to audio recordings of 30 years' worth of poetry readings hosted by the Center. Mark Doty read this poem and it has stayed with me ever since.
Under Grand Central's tattered vault
--maybe half a dozen electric stars still lit--
one saxophone blew, and a sheer black scrim
billowed over some minor constellation
under repair. Then, on Broadway, red wings
in a storefront tableau, lustrous, the live macaws
preening, beaks opening and closing
like those animated knives that unfold all night
in jewelers' windows. For sale,
glass eyes turned outward toward the rain,
the birds lined up like the endless flowers
and cheap gems, the makeshift tables
of secondhand magazines
and shoes the hawkers eye
while they shelter in the doorways of banks.
So many pockets and paper cups
and hands reeled over the weight
of that glittered pavement, and at 103rd
a woman reached to me across the wet roof
of a stranger's car and said, I'm Carlotta,
I'm hungry. She was only asking for change,
so I don't know why I took her hand.
The rooftops were glowing above us,
enormous, crystalline, a second city
lit from within. That night
a man on the downtown local stood up
and said, My name is Ezekiel,
I am a poet, and my poem this evening is called
fall. He stood up straight
to recite, a child reminded of his posture
by the gravity of his text, his hands
hidden in the pockets of his coat.
Love is protected, he said,
the way leaves are packed in snow,
the rubies of fall. God is protecting
the jewel of love for us.
He didn't ask for anything, but I gave him
all the change left in my pocket,
and the man beside me, impulsive, moved,
gave Ezekiel his watch.
It wasn't an expensive watch,
I don't even know if it worked,
but the poet started, then walked away
as if so much good fortune
must be hurried away from,
before anyone realizes it's a mistake.
Carlotta, her stocking cap glazed
like feathers in the rain,
under the radiant towers, the floodlit ramparts,
must have wondered at my impulse to touch her,
which was like touching myself,
the way your own hand feels when you hold it
because you want to feel contained.
She said, You get home safe now, you hear?
In the same way Ezekiel turned back
to the benevolent stranger.
I will write a poem for you tomorrow,
he said. The poem I will write will go like this:
Our ancestors are replenishing
the jewel of love for us.