Queens Vision, 1983
Somewhere in the bowels of Queens with my crazy second wife,
driving to meet her Grandpa. The insane traffic last night,
some kind of Puerto Rican parade, and her brother,
who’s recently found God, in the car with us
shouting out the window, “Jesus is Lord, baby! ”
Parking, we walk up the stairs
in an ordinary brown, brick building.
An old, thin man with glasses sits in an easy chair,
a devout Catholic, Cindy’s told me.
She goes to do some straightening.
For an hour he and I talk
of the Yankees and St. Francis,
and how he worked in the shipyards
and went to church all his life.
A mind at peace, I realize.
He smiles, looking inward
with few regrets, then back at me.
The room seems brighter than it was.
Cindy returns. The three of us
talk more. As we leave,
I look around
to try to discover
why it feels as if
we’ve visited a shrine.
He smiles at me again.
Not “a sign”: holiness
can be so ordinary;
but it’s him.
Out on the street
we walk toward the car.
I turn around for one more look
at the building. Two trees in front
shed their red and golden leaves.
A couple strolls by on the sidewalk.
The building looks anything
but ordinary now.
A subtle glow suffuses it.
Silence seems to swallow
Time itself has stopped
here on a New York street,
to pay homage to
the aged man up there
whose body will soon fall
like the leaves on those trees.
Too easy a target,
and yet, that’s our legacy!
Those silly names
for body parts
“toosie,” a pillow
strapped to your backside.
“Number One” and “Number Two,”
or even “Tu-Tu” and “Fu-Fu,”
(Chinese twins?) which
I also heard once,
back before “poop” and “pee”
became universal currency.
was like that. We lived
on the one hand
sanitarily wrapped in
separate airtight containers,
and on the other,
collective family soup
that seeped through
the cracks of all
“They never talked to us”:
Well, the world faced
in a different direction.
Nobody knew, least of all these
people with immigrant forbears,
starting lives after World War II
believing all they’d been told:
Automation will solve your problems.
The schools will raise your children.
It’s important to get ahead.
Ah, dreaming the American dream.
Sweet dream. Now,
time to wake up.