I believe in sleep
has always been my favorite Harold Brodkey line
and it’s true that Harold is a dead white man
having recently succumbed to AIDS
here in New York City so far from home.
I read him (and my line) again this morning
standing squashed into the Express
beside an old man dressed mostly to code
except for a huge ruby ring on his pinkie
and one of those Astrakhan hats
of shearling wool shorn before the shearling
had ever got born.
He had a Xerox of Brodkey’s New Yorker piece
“Death: An Update”
and was reading very slowly
of how Harold had been an irresistible baby
(“I’m going to eat you all up!”).
After a while my eyes slid towards the subway map
and I counted all the cemeteries in Queens,
Mt. Olivet, St. Johns, Mt Zion and Juniper Valley
and that other one from the bible I can never remember.
If you focus on these last places (for white men and others)
the stripes of the subway map, its skeleton,
range across the East River and become in outline
like some Matisse dancer,
a woman perhaps of different colored strings,
swaying with her hips on the west side of Midtown
and her arms swung above her body
into Harlem and Crown Heights.
She seemed happy enough, if alone.
But then later on the street I saw a man
with his arm heavily wrapped as though from burns
and his left foot swollen in an old brown boot,
split at the toe.
He may have danced once,
this man, but those days are gone.
Still, there he was in the cradle of her unknowingly.
Slowly stepping, one and two.