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Cover Library Poetry A Hot January

Not Painted, NYC, 1970’s

Margaret Wilmot
Smaller text sizeDefault text sizeBigger text size Add to my bookshelf epub mobi Permalink MapNew York City, Lincoln Center
In sneakers and singlet he smiles sprinting by.
The narrow housefronts flush, grow warm.
Children on a stoop talk rules to a game, pointing out
sidewalk trees, which, thickly green, give off
a breath of summer, and day’s end. Lime-green
a woman slices over to the cafe, all glass, all reflection
as a red sun burns down to the horizon.
I think of painting the scene, how pictures are worth
a hundred words for catching memory; yet too
how catching memory stops it there, mid-moment,
before it bounces off a tree, and ricochets
across to the children on the stoop;
stops it mid-flight in its mysterious trajectory before
it soars high through a hoop of lamppost.
He fell in step beside me talking pigeons, a gentle
Puerto Rican named Ramon, and on the gritty wind
I saw white wings lifting the way they do in movies.
He passed hours in their company, how much he loved
those birds and their soft ways he couldn’t even say...
His look fluttered my eyes up past dingy windows as if
towards putti in some high grey sky off Avenue B.
Once he took the bus to Philadelphia and let one fly—
I saw his brown hands love the bird aloft. Crowline
it came back to the East Side! He shone, a sun of pride.
Once he was ill, he got the flu, it was a catastrophe,
his friend got careless... Something in his face
fluffed out and dropped. I almost stooped
to catch its wings from sidewalk grime.
Palaces of the mind’s desire the bookshops,
and then outside musicians playing in the night;
further on a man stands framed beneath a street-light
throwing knives while chips and glints of light fall
round him in a Village fountain. Uptown other fountains...
At Lincoln Center Sunday afternoon, how to choose
between two operas, a recital, a concert or a play?
Walking back from Max’s Kansas City late
one hot evening, tips tucked inside my bra,
smoky murk and kitchen smells dissolving,
I come upon a pile of purple onions, so beautiful, surreal
in the gutter—and feel like the fairy-tale youth before
the gold: “Take all you can carry,” cackles the witch.
You can only carry seven Spanish onions in a mini-skirt.
A huge beetle buzzes into the white light as we sit
chatting late. The cat freezes, her muscles quiver,
she rolls forward, springs, falls back unsuccessful;
crouches taut, ears, eyes following the whir of wings.
The insect ricochets against a plaster cast, and Venus springs again,
bats out a paw, and misses. The expanse of paint-splashed linoleum
has become a wide arena. By now we all are silent, watching.
Privy to that strange intimacy which unfolds around
an ancient amphora, we witness strings of energy spin forth
between the hunter and the hunted—as if no neon tubing
nor open windows can change the rules in this game.
Nor the outcome: old vases show the hunter always wins.
Sleekly black she stalks, darts, poises; a leap takes off
one armoured wing. The beetle limps in air.
A crouching jaguar swings his bat, hits
the dandelion-sun in a great arc. Shouts in English,
Spanish, Spanglish hang their scrim between
the diamond and high rectangles which frame the Park.
The painter buys a pretzal, pauses. The batter’s grace,
the warmth and bony cheeks in his brown face recall Mexico.
Not dandelion. Quetzal-sun. Red snapper-sun.
Windows wide to the unmoving air that night, he squeezes
Cadmium Yellow Light onto the old palette-board
and paints a jaguar-sun crouched round a Tree of Life.
Tries a geometric scrim for background but paints it out again.
His hated father took him to baseball games.
If only we could isolate memories. He adds lampblack
to the sun and it turns green. Pours himself a scotch.
I would have expected a fantasy of kites over Sheep Meadow:
paper eagles, dragonflies, a silver-bellied fish catching
the sun on rainbow scales—or perhaps the sharing as when
rain breaks a hard drought, melting dusty faces towards each other.
Yet in Central Park nothing seems different: people still sprawl,
throw frisbees, nosh, bicker, sleep. A parent removes a toddler’s reins
and a ball of energy takes off in a wide arc across the green.
Yet the president has resigned. This is significant.
Some tectonic plate in politics has shifted for us all.
A shiver crawled my skin when the radio-announcer
spoke the words. I grabbed my keys and charged outside
wanting bunting! balloons! While now here I am, alone
by the still reservoir watching a young goose
arch his neck against the skyline of Fifth Avenue.
Of course, it will never be the same.
The words catch me on their bored barbs; brittle,
her tone, bitter. I glance briefly at a platinum-blond.
This is not enduring love (as I listen on) but what
the insurance money will afford. You always wanted sapphires!
He so eager to please, but Oh what’s the use!
petulantly floats back through the revolving-door.
A sapphire wave shot through with glints of emerald
sheers me on down Fifth Avenue. I window-shop
at Tiffany’s for colours ripe as fruit on the eye’s tongue.
“I’ll pick you bunches of rubies that you can eat,
and squeeze you a cup full of diamond juice.”
Topaz light plays like a fairy-child through
high windows. Skyscrapers turn amethyst.
Lime-green climbs one wall in steps and turns
the corner into sapphire over a base of purple lake;
cadmium orange pulses above a few paint-cans
ranged along a rainbow strip of sheet. Cushions.
A fireplace she feeds with wood from dumpsters.
Space is everywhere. This is the living-room where
we drink wine and read each other letters from Italy.
A week later the colours have changed, again.
The paint was just sulking on the wall! She laughs at
my discomfiture—as if a terra-cotta wash may casually
efface what lies between us. Singing in the Dolomites.
Naming her cat ‘Tocai.’ Suppers in my father’s studio.
No, for that it will take the grit and chip
and splash and scrape of life itself.
It could be a Found Object, or framed behind glass,
or Arte Povera, just tossed there in a space
for people to say, Why is this art? I’ll give them art,
this heart-shaped pot-holder, cut askew.
I picture the child who gave her heart to my brittle tenant,
who left it hanging above my stove. Though three of
my favourite cookbooks are missing, presumed taken.
It could be—but I like paint, its warmth of reds,
strokes layered and juxtaposed like stitches of love
finding each other and glowing in each other’s company;
reds which laugh when the polka-dot kisses shower down
in tiny white hearts dancing like the light in a child’s eyes as
she watches the brittle blond outside Tiffany’s
pick up her present and start to unwrap it.
Click-tock, click-tock. The tower-clock near my window
in a small Dolomite town is urging me to hurry;
it’s very early, the hotel is still, no one else in the ski-gang
is awake, but I dash on clothes and jacket and let
the sound and the transparent light pull me outside;
I know that all of life and love and language are breathing
clouds of steam as they wait in the sharp snow-air.
But no, tock: these are high-heels on the sidewalk
along Barrow Street where I am sitting at my desk
(a smooth door, big enough for typewriter and cat)
distracted by papers to correct before class, and a purring
in the afternoon sun, and the surreal vision
of a high-heeled secretary marking once-upon-a-time
on a faded red tower-clock one mountain morning.
Was it good? A passenger on the cross-town bus
notices the catalogue under someone’s arm. Pretty good,
but not up to all the hype. Another person adds his two-cents-worth,
I agree. I ring the bell, get off with a wiry old woman who
somehow becomes Dorothy as we wait for the light
to cross Columbus. Well, I’m off to buy my husband a hat.
I assume I’m just making conversation. I’ll give you a hat,
brand new! she says. My husband loved hats. He died last year.
Her high-rise is geometric concrete. Security waves us through.
First the flu, and then one long catastrophe. I’m feeling
that shyness before a stranger’s space. She hands me
a plaid hat, remarkably small, in a dusty wrap.
I miss the dancing. We were always dancing.
Her eyes shine luminous as windows.
So many snow-storms that winter.
Seventy-Second Street was white all the way to the Park.
Then Valentine’s Day approached with its storm of red hearts.
Every size and shade—plum and pomegranate, ruby and rose—
danced through shop windows, all glowing in each other’s company,
laughing when the huge soft flakes fell kissing the plate glass.
People became polite, helped old ladies across the great drifts
which accumulated at the corner of Amsterdam, smiling
as if we were all Tin Woodmen warm with the new hearts
the Wizard of Winter had implanted in our tin breasts.
A homeless Santa appeared at the subway entrance joking as
he begged he fit right in. Until the Thaw and the Flood.
Then you needed water-wings to get to Gray’s Papaya.
One morning we awoke to shamrocks, shop windows green.
The panelling has been rubbed to a soft sheen. Its grain,
its small knots swirl toward ebony butterfly joints, then away.
There is a mirror of a most particular flat cross-shape, set in
its own narrow frame, flanked by pairs of lamps with
fluted shades. A scroll turns beneath moulding shimmed
to lift the simply inlaid ceiling higher. If you live on
the Tenth Floor you spend a lot of time in the elevator.
Barrow Street was a walk-up. I must have clocked up days going
up and down the drab staircase where someone had scrawled ‘coglioni;’
the black crayon displayed no hint toward humour or finesse.
In four years it never occurred to me to paint it over.
My pop-artist neighbour might have made a mural in sky-blue,
flesh-pink and white of Seven Sailors Rolling
Arm in Arm Abreast Down Seventh Avenue.
A slender crane slants through the Boteros’ picnic, spread
festively on their fire-escape. From the third floor across the Avenue
a painter surveys the scene: plump family hatched by bars
and stripes of sun and shadow. Round plates, round casserole:
as she serves, every move la señora makes is round.
The crane swivels. The girl’s blouse is candy-cane.
Green clouds of sumac roll beneath the rails one floor down.
The innocence slips sideways into a festival an artist-friend
painted on his mind: how each year when she was young
children in Japan folded paper cranes to float on streams
in honour of the day the Cowboy greets the Princess of the Loom.
In the mysterious trajectory of the stars each day is combed with visions.
The breeze smells of river; it tugs the little girl’s petticoat,
lifts and flutters it like a white wing. She squeals.
Table of related information
Copyright ©Margaret Wilmot, 2005
By the same author RSS
Date of publicationMarch 2006
Collection RSSA Hot January
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