1,606 Readings | 3 Ratings

New York, New Amsterdam, Paris, Texas

This morning here, on the way to school, down President
Kennedylaan, glad and personable, doing my part
For the city, tipping a cap to the emaciated houses
Leaning all over one another after
Another unreasonable night of being alive in this town,
Trying hard to politely ignore the intimate grunting
Of the toilets hoisting themselves up through pulleys and levers,
Enjoying the brief fresh air,
Up past the baroque facades of the small homes
And into their new quiet rooms of rest, I
Rest. I don’t know what the word ‘usually’ means
Anymore, and whatever glories of the night
Still remain, but everything so powerfully lit, and,
Too, nowhere can one escape,
Nor, should you, the memories of the father,
Dying, finally, from the protracted battle with Dutch
Elm disease. The glass baking on the curb—some day
I will come to love the sound of the morning
Cleaning up after itself, but never today.
What can I teach you of my language
If you do not understand your own:
Berlijn, Parijs, IJsbrand Eises Ypma?
V-R-IJ-D-A-G.
Or V-R-I-J-D-A-G; whatever, it’s all fine.
Tell me how to make it through the unending deaths of day
Not resolving if your thoughts are one or two. Or
Is that the trick—let letters do whatever they want. Life
Has rules, class. That does not fly in English. One
Learns to be responsible with one’s tongue and
Vowels. Description is a physicality: do you
Not see me here, moving my mouth thusly?
One day someone will see right through me,
“This assignment,” the student will say, “solves
Nothing,” quietly, “And though I see the smallness of it,
The care of images, the insistence upon description,
The way the mind associates, you lose us.”
Write a description of something you know how to do—
Perhaps baking a tray of cookies—in clear,
Concise English so that I may repeat the process.

“Take the movement of hands, for example;
One can never do it enough to not think of
The mother. Her hands kneading dough,
The way she pushed your fingers in there,
To learn. From there, it’s only a short hop-skip-
And-a-jump to her hands now: dangerously
Thin, cracked, aware of their own borders and aging.
Or, in kneading, we think of base limitations:
How it all works together, yeast and flour, the
Strangeness of it, budding, reproduction of cells,
Fission. Of course, I am talking about birth.
To say nothing of the fermentation of alcohol,
The inadvertent recollection of the rich tradition
Of American letters concerned with the drinking
Habits of the father. Which you yourself have
Introduced to us. (And saying nothing of probiotics,
And why are we now, here of all places, resting
On the season of Co-Op City, Bronx, 1985, when
The new sickness seized the city with a claim
To authority?) What are we instructing? You
Repeat nothing.”
                                  Where have I wandered? The students
Practice consonants, scan, scan. Anon, canst,
Can, cannot.
Noon soon, a cannon snot
Of bells and I am out the door. It’s tenuous,
Living variously indeed, yes. The sound
Of their voices is half the battle. How am I
To learn if mangled English is preferable
To mis-inflected Dutch? The utterance
Of this world is punishable by death.
Posted 02/14/10
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