Magnum Opus

“I’m Trash,”
she says,
“or whatever you want to call me.”
In the Kroger parking lot
in January
she wears pajama pants and flip-flops.
She asks for money.
She says she’ll
clean windows
but can’t offer her regular services
because she has an infection.

He wears a white turban made of blankets
and a puffy ski jacket
no matter the season.
He’s always in the same places,
walking up and down
next to the road
staring at cars,
never speaking,
never walking on the path
with all the other walkers and joggers.
Instead,
he travels parallel,
ten feet away,
to keep either others or himself
safe.

Ten minutes into the church service,
a man in dirty jeans,
carrying garbage bags full of belongings
sits in the third pew.
A large, graying man in a suit
hands him a hymnal.
He holds it away from his chest
as if unsure how to use it.
But when the soprano soloist
takes the stage,
he raises his arms
making small motions
from his fingertips
in the air,
conducting her voice,
his own personal symphony.

The Haitian

I can’t understand
most of his
jumbled words –
between his
French-Caribbean accent
and unavoidable mental illness,
his sentences all mush together.
But they are still lovely.

At first, I admire
his words –
like freshly born animals,
they are wobbly when they walk,
still slick with afterbirth,
eyes still closed.
Each time I ask a question
with a simple answer,
he has a monologue prepared
to go along with
his demographic information.

He pulls faded pictures of children,
who are now fully grown,
out of an old leather briefcase
and tells me where
all three of them live:
New York, Chicago, Houston.

Eventually,
I’m exhausted
by his relentless storytelling.
I interrupt his run-on sentences
with the questions
of my case work.
Where did you stay last night?
Do you have a history of substance abuse?
How much income are you receiving monthly?

With each question,
I see him return
to himself,
as though he were
previously unaware
of his own voice,
just a moment ago
echoing off the concrete walls.

Sin

On an evening drive,
a vague moving shadow
appears in the street ahead.
I slow my speed
and recognize the shape
of a frantic, injured doe,
likely clipped by an indifferent passing car.
Her head waves around in panic,
her thick neck hinging wildly from side to side.
Another night driver
speeds toward her.

I stop in the road,
covering my gaping mouth with one hand,
bracing for impact.
But he sees her in time
and reveals himself to be
a neighborhood security guard,
turning on his green flashing lights,
neutralizing the threat.

As I drive past the scene,
I look to my left
and see her lying in the road,
resigned in the headlights.
Her head is tucked beneath her hind legs,
the road streaked with her blood.
Sickness wells up in my chest,
and I imagine holding her head in my lap
as the life leaves her body
so that she knows she was cared for.

New York

“I came here to see it…”
they say she is a city full of
all those good things
opportunity
success
adventure
love

bright lights
mean I can learn to
be bright again too

“…with new eyes…”
like reading your same favorite book
the same time again each year
and realizing how different you are
each time you encounter it
I am a new creature now
in a way I wasn’t
last time I saw her
this time I need this wildness
my body craves her streets
her crowded subways
her tall towers packed together
her old and new juxtaposed

“…and feel it.”
she taught me that I can still do this
that my tenacity is still intact
that I can move beyond merely enduring
that I can get drunk on wine
with my parents and take a
late night walk through the West Village
that I can write my phone number
on a napkin and slide it across
the bar to a British man
that I can take a cab through
the city alone and confidently
get where I’m going

“It’s up to you, New York.”
she was the climax
of a summer of adventures
to remember where my core is
among all this debris
because New York knows
what it’s like to try to
find yourself again
among debris
and rise from it in the most
poetic and heart wrenching of ways