When she could

When she could contain her movements
she seemed almost ordinary, attractive even
But she couldn’t for long
Her arms jerked out,
her torso contorted
She reached down, then up
as she grimaced, strained,
her high cheeks taut with frustration

Oh how they loved to smoke
God did they smoke
They knew it was bad for them too
but they did it anyway, they didn’t care
In their old upper west side subsidized apartments
my Mom and her academic friends
They drank too much, they flirted, they argued over ideas
Yes, they did, about ideas

Some of them were blockheads
Like the idiot who’d purposely misconstrue
what you’d say, to so easily impugn your intelligence
What was it like there?
How do you like it here?
Here it’s paradise
There, they begged for help
that never came

Alone among the welter, the sweat of humanity,
a mean smile, a honk of the horn,
a shout, a flare, angry words
In our travels we see
a black lady casually walk
by the side of the highway, by the diesel smoke
a heavy load balanced on her head
Her walking so slow, dignified, controlled

What will happen?
I know enough to know that except
in the broadest sense,
I don’t know
However, failing some bad accident, here’s how it’ll go—
I’ll slowly deteriorate and with each small sickness
deny the what of it all and think,
in no time at all, I’ll heal

The problem is you don’t walk right or enough
Walk slower, walk faster, drink water,
drink beer, drink tea, drink water with no ice
The problem is you drink too much
The problem is your breathing
You don’t breathe right
Her torso contorted spasmodically
The problem is, you’re mortal

That was their environment
That’s where they escaped from
Its malevolence like a slight bruise
on her mind, in her head
So she smoked like her academic heroines
They imprisoned you there for who you were
and for what you might do—
not for what you’ve done

This is paradise
When we asked the famous pol why
he couldn’t speak to us like that
speech that inspired us so many years ago,
he said that after a time a person changes
and can’t talk that way anymore
All those days of anguish and tears—
the heart isn’t made of iron, you know




June 21, 2014