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San Francisco/New York/Paris: Poems


San Francisco

In this city
the rustle of the wind
through the trees
drowns out the sound
of traffic.

Tangy salt mingles
with sweet eucalyptus
masking the fumes of buses.

Spiky hair
of lavender or white
lends a startled look
to black-ringed eyes.

Rolling hills, distant harbors
offer broad perspective.

In this city
a hand-held tire iron
would be alarming
flying garbage
an aberration
graffiti on pastel houses
nearly unthinkable.

I came to this city
to smell the eucalyptus
to hear the rustling leaves
to fill my eyes
with gingerbread visions

and I wander this city
searching for what’s been lost.


Hail Hail Rock & Roll


Two a.m. in the 7-11:

the kid behind the counter
wearing 3 pounds of silver
and 18 tin buttons

and I think,
Ain’t nothin’ in the world
this kid and I agree on.

Up in the mornin’ and out to school

Chuck shouts from the boom box
and I start twitchin’
and the kid cracks a smile
and we say in unison,
Greatest damn song ever written!


Laughing At Love


Sitting on the bus
in my workday suit
I opened my new Love calendar
to The Kiss by Rodin.

Four young Black girls
in their long beaded braids
peered over my shoulder
and burst into giggles.

An old Chinese woman
lugging bags of greens
winked knowingly at me
and we laughed at the girls.

For one brief moment
we all left America.
We were just girls
laughing at love.


Back East

Back East, we say,
we transplanted nomads
seeking truth and beauty
out west.

We write letters back East
of the wonders we’ve found
and telephone back East
to describe our new lives.

We reveal more than
we mean to. We mean:
the homeland, the original,
the only, the place.

I’m going back East.

I’m calling back East.

My friends back East.

We reveal disorientation

a profound sense of loss

a searing, burning,
3000 mile hole in the heart.


The Peddlers

All that midtown weekend
when I walked
from hotel room
to tobacconist
to hotel room
to cafeteria
young black men
tried to sell me sunglasses.

From 34th to 60th
four or five to a street
they stood
behind milk crates
spectacles on display.

The peddlers were never
white or tan or brown
but always deepest ebony:
men in the full bloom of youth
young black men
who shone with energy
and reeked of despair.

I kept buying sunglasses:
pink with flared frames
yellow butterflies
with rhinestones
thin round wire rims
but on the next block
four more milk crates

I was haunted by visions
of sunglasses sliding
over hollow black skulls.
All night
I watched Mary Tyler Moore
for reassurance
but in the morning
they’d returned:
black men
in the full bloom of youth
standing in the street
selling sunglasses.

In the Russian Tea Room
a golden-skinned man
poured water over ice
while my mother speared a herring
and insisted I’d been conned:
the glasses were a scam
and the peddlers, millionaires.


The Peddlers II

All over Paris
in every cafe
my compatriots were singing
“We Are The World.”
A young Tunisian waiter
picked my brain for information.
Proudly I identified Bruce
Springsteen, Ray Charles.

Outside the Louvre
and at Place du Trocadero
young black men
hawked white plastic doves.
Ancient statues
served as their displays.

“Vous etes neé ou?”
He replied, “Senegal.”

My mother tugged my sleeve
and we walked to Jeu de Paumes
where Senegalese youth
sold their wares at the door.

I bought beads, chains, feathers,
flowers for my hair
but still the master’s statues
stood bedecked with modern trinkets.

I’d flown 3000 miles
in search of higher culture
to see sidewalk desperation
in France Ethiopia Senegal
America Tunisia Nicaragua

Nous sommes le monde.



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