The New Yorker
by Michael Finley
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Passengers hug their luggage close,
their faces diagonal with dismay,
and check their watches as they wait
by the message board
for news of the delayed train.
One women clasps her red gloves and keys in one hand.
A professional man folds his arms
A student gazes up at the board with open mouth.
Then the letters start flipping and
the speakers announce that the train
to Princeton Junction is cleared for boarding and everyone breaks
for the steps down to Track One,
clambering down like a centipede
in a suit.
Once situated in our seats, we look up, out, and away
as the conductor announces that a bridge in Newark
is causing problems
and there will be an indefinite delay.
A groan goes through the car like an infantry taking fire.
Jesus Christ, mutters the professional man,
who looks like he is about to cry,
and who obviously has someplace important to get to.
He and the woman in red gloves
and half a dozen others bolt
to their feet, grab their bags and rush back up the stairs
to catch a ride on another line. No sooner
are they gone
than the address system announces
that the problems in Newark have been resolved,
and the car begins to slide forward in the station.
I ask the conductor if we couldn't call
the people back, and end their suffering.
The man just punches my ticket,
smiles and says,
"You're going to be just fine."
The New Yorker
The breath of the woman crouched
in a blanket in the gray slush
flutes about her like a dying fire.
She is wet and cold, with no place to go,
and it is only early December.
Citizens stride by her, and their faces
pronounce their opinions.
The broker is displeased with the state
of the city, the young account exec
cheerfully looks every way
but at the fallen woman,
and the red hot vendor sidesteps
around her, doing brisk business.
You want to stand the woman up,
slap the sleet from her hair
and send her on an invisible errand,
set her to work on a phone bank
or streetcorner, passing out bills,
earning a few dollars, anything
but this public suffering, so deadly
and so close to Christmas.
But God has made her incompetent
and us indifferent, except for one woman in a camel hair hat,
who passes, stops, fiddles with her pocketbook,
tiptoes back and places
a five in the paper cup.
The leaves blow across the old park,
Of Madison Square
the hickory and ginkgo,
linden and oak, next to the monument
of eternal light, for the fallen soldiers
of the first world war, and beside that,
a sign on a tree saying, caution,
a rat poison called Mak1
has been placed in this area;
its antidote, if you are resourceful
about these things, is Vitamin K-1,
you probably have some in your house,
if you can get there in time.
But the dogs roaming the sixteenth
of an acre of fenced-in grass
by the Flatiron Building can't read.
A big-chested pointer, a doberman
and an old teat-dragging labrador,
plus a Scottie, cocker spaniel,
and some kind of greyhound all gather about
as she defecates, and it is entirely
fascinating to these dogs about town.
She bows, cowed by their attention
as she squeezes it out
and they are delighted with the whole business
and beat their tails
against themselves, no,
their eyes never really seem to lock
onto one another, because their joy
is somehow outisde what they are,
it is in the rich aromas in the air,
the unleashed freedom they feel
behind their heads, and their
damp maws open wide
It is two in the morning, and the sound
of air hammers and chainsaws
from a night construction crew
brings me out of bed.
The view from my hotel window
doesn't quite include Lincoln Center,
kitty corner, though the hotel
celebrates its tradition of putting up
musicians and singers and actors overnight. What I do see
is a triangular patch of grass,
and a statute of Dante,
his laurels blending with the dead leaves
of November. He gazes out
on 63rd Street and Broadway, humorlessly, like a man
who knows his way around infernoes.
Besides the immortal poet is a bus stand
advertising Eternity by Calvin Klein.
It is late, and the traffic has begun
to die down. Down the sidewalk
comes a man who is drunk.
Each step is an essay and not all
He is like a mime climbing an imaginary rope,
a phantom walking through
new falling snow, that melts on
the shoulders of statues of poets,
and I, too excited to sleep in my hotel bed,
know exactly how
When I landed at LaGuardia
it was seventy degrees,
all I needed was a thin jacket.
For three days I walked the streets
leery of beggars who seemed
to know something, and shadowy
figures lurking in doorways.
But when the temperature began
to fall and the canyon gusts blew
plastic sacks like ghostly luggage,
I came into my own.
I am more used to winter than them,
it is my natural element, walking into
the city wind, swinging
my computer case at my side.
All along Sixth Avenue the muggers
and murderers part, melted
from their purpose by sled dog eyes,
urgent and cheerful on a cold,
A holiday book for friends and family,
Copyright © 1995 by Mike Finley;
all rights reserved.
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