8th Street/Staten Island, NY 1980
Here my mother will peel back layers of wallpaper in the kitchen,
its large orange and brown patterned flowers tearing stingily. Then
paint, that she will scrape, gouge, and chip until it hurts her. I am too
young to help, but on the second floor, where we sleep, I drag my
fingers, cheeks and lips over the velvet wallpaper that she will not
touch for several years.
East 12th Street & 3rd Avenue 1994
Mornings I walk west in slanted light. Always someone with a
suitcase, someone with a problem. I buy a sixty cent coffee, milky and
sweet, pass the Catholic school, the movie theater, the crumbling dance
hall where my grandmother was married, enter alone, into the cave of
dissent, of unknowing, of desire I cannot touch for many years.
East 7th Street between Avenues C and D 1995
I don’t remember what I ate between tin ceilings and cracked linoleum
floors. Mostly I walk west because the projects are on D, but D is
cool. I’m cool with all that and I walk, talking to everyone, drink the
sweetest café con leche, pan con mantequilla. So many ladies on
crates late into the evening. Polish, Ukrainian, Puerto Rican,
Dominican. And inside. What of inside? I left that desire there each
day and walked toward the years.
El Capricho 1997
We find each other always in the cobblestone alleyway they called La
Plazuela. I listen to your every note. You are from the future, birdlike,
sharp. I want to be you, to be on and in your earth.
The house will become a summary of the years spent soldering
ourselves into future beings––where we will dwell, how we will love.
Eagle Street/Greenpoint, Brooklyn 1998
Stanislaw brings a bottle of vodka up when I pay rent. We are still in
old time, family time. Brown-paneled stairwell and stippled paint to
run a finger over time. I pine at the kitchen table, look out at the
Polish churchgoers. If all the years are decades, this is my seventies.
My hair grew knotted, there was dancing, sex, persuasion. And I
clawed at the edges of it all. Before I left, I cut away a piece of the
grey carpet and found polished hardwood floors.
East 6th Street between Avenues B and C 2000
In 1999, I move in with my girlfriend. Everyone still speaks Spanish
everywhere, but there is a cop station coming. Avenue B is still punk
in pockets, but the community gardens are under attack. She is the
love that I pined for when I touched the walls, sat in windows, but we
will tear each other apart. I can sense the way everything is shifting,
but I am shifting too. For work, I sell cigarettes and candy from a box
hung around my neck. This is the reaping of seeds I have sewed. The
ripening of my fruits, very few just right. My lover sits on the bed next
to the window on 6th. She is easy to locate. I am a moving target.
Broadway in Brooklyn in front of the J train 2001
We arrive, as always, pregentrification, to this borderland. A no rules
place to do business, where languages weep together under the
rumbling subway. In one syllable, a greeting or solicitation. This was
a crossroads and a dividing line. A place between junctions. The
owner of the refrigerator repair shop lets his chickens peck at the
sidewalk. From the fire escape, I watch the boys turning into men.
From the roof I watch the towers collapse into grey dust. My
roommates are the kinds of friends who nourish the worst seeds,
who love the rotten fruit.
Panama to Mexico 2003
For three months, I make my home in small rooms with thin walls,
hammocks and night buses. War begins and I disown my country
whenever I can. On a muddy trail, I slip and bruise internally. Ribs
and abdomen—my center aches. In Panama, I buy a red cotton dress
and tread along the edges. Canal. Bahia. Mar. I am contained by the
passages. I do not look for love and it does not find me. There are
places I do not dive into, walls on which I barely drag a fingertip.
I love in an inlet of myself and sometimes, I let the mar spill into me.
8th Street/Staten Island, NY 2003
At twenty-seven, I return as a bridge. Plush of white carpet and my adult feet.
My father and I talk most mornings, sneak cigarettes together outside.
My mother works each day in Manhattan. Later I will learn that she is
grieving. We confront my list of grievances, but never hers. The walls
are all painted, the grandparents all dead. We come and go.
Heaps of years. Chipped patterns.
Cover Art by Guilherme Bergamini