Wednesday, March 21, 2007

This is not a poetry blog. But this poem is a story.


Jason and I like to
argue who found that
apartment first—no, not like you
think, he always gives me the credit.
I remember it was him because
when he told me: You take the L train
to ________ and then walk fifteen or
twenty minutes out, across a four lane
road until you hit a little park and luncheonette,
I told him: Jason! Walking fifteen minutes away
from the subway is code for Dangerous Place to Be
and don’t you know?: Parks are where muggers hide
and contemplate their prey. It was 1996 when we
moved to Sutton Street, at $825 for seven rooms
shared by two people who were never a couple.
The neighbors would have keeled over at what
we were paying: Polish and Dominican immigrants
and the American family across the street with a nine
year old named Elvis.

After us, Patrick and Anne moved in around
the corner, across from the laundromat and
above the hardware store; then Chantal below them.
There was one conspicuous hipster in our part
of the neighborhood, a fellow we didn’t know; and some artists
who’d lived closer to the River for a long time, but I’d find out about
them much later.

Now it’s 2007, I’m in Pittsburgh a year. I’m further from a subway
than I’ve been in over a decade, and paying what I paid
to rent a room in Fort Greene in 1992. I get reports from afar
that Williamsburg is buying and selling in the million$, that Busta
Rhymes calls it home, and according to Christina on Java Street,
the rooftops of Greenpoint are crowded with a skyline of drummers
and latchkey trustfunders paying $1800 for their railroad floor-throughs.

From seven stories above the Pittsburgh pavement, I wonder
about the infamous pyramid of urban renewal: first the artists
move in to the depressed area, then the students, then
the gay couples, and finally the wider breed of yuppy. I wonder
how much responsibility is whose to take, and what kind of damage
I did to myself and my neighbors when I paid 70%
of my income in rent, subsisting on canned beans
with chopped onions, and $1.25 slices, mostly in the name
of outgrowing my parents' wishes for me.

Jason would come home from a long day
at school and play some Bobby Dylan in a fury
on his acoustic guitar. I wrote a novel while
sitting in bed under piles of wool the winter
before the landlord changed the windows from glass
to vinyl; Jason felt lonely on the living room couch
we’d jointly purchased from Sidney the junk dealer
on Driggs Avenue. When we left the house together,
our street framed the Citibank skyscraper in L.I.C.
and he’d always say, “Tallest building in Queens!,”
after which I’d launch into the theme of “All in the Family.”

I didn’t get mugged until ’98,
and it wasn’t quite in Greenpoint but
a little ways East. By then the streets
around Graham Avenue and Frost were looking towards
a quiet war of Midwestern library students vs. Italian
home-owners and diaspora-Africa in Section Eight.
Sitting in the precinct on Meserole, I waited
through a Brooklyn brown-out before I identified
the guy in the 800th digital photograph in the database.
One officer offered me Chinese takeout, and
eventually my case would get thrown out of court,
while my mugger went to prison anyhow, for second
degree arson, recent and local.

These days I’m betrothed to someone I knew before I ever knew New
York City, and Jason, who’s since married and divorced, stops for
visits from Flint, on his way through to see his mother
in Reston, Virginia.

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