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Rated: 18+ · Poetry · Tragedy · #1729987
9-11 and before -- come meet the real faces of New York City by taking a walk with me....
Ars Longa Vita Brevis

For Harrie Schwartz

I was driving the last nails into the coffin of
The New York City scene
The day the rainbow faded…the day I woke without
My morning constitution
There were nights with my
Head under the pillows and sheets
My arms embraced
The cold cotton shroud of silence
I began to believe I had to keep
That hot sting of conscience blessed fire
From letting my demons out

I imagined holding the head of America under
The murky waters of many of her liberties
Where skin magazines shared space with milk cartons
With pictures of missing children smiling back
With lost forever smiles

I stared like you stared…and they stared
Just long enough to see
The narcotic appetites of curiosity take hold until…
The voice announced the train
I could see commuters scurry
As they talked to themselves: Do I have my gloves?
                                   Magazines? Cigarettes?
                                                      Hope I get a seat this time
                                                      Oblivious to the heartbeats around them
I was between the fists of a naked tainted city
Going downtown.....
I stopped just long enough to think about it
Just a little longer than all the rest,
See…it’s not as serious as most would believe it to be
The clock will tick just the same

Climbing the steps from the bowels of the city
I made my way through her south side
Took a backseat in Sharif’s cab
He turned and smiled -- said I could call him “Sonny”
Weaving in and out of a street
With manhole covers made in India
The cab made by a Japanese conglomerate
My Arabian hacker drove like Mario Andretti
And delivered me to the Iroquois Hotel where
The Armenian doorman greeted me 
The Mexican porter took my bags
The Puerto Rican shoeshine man waved as he ate Swiss cheese
While the Korean boy delivered Chinese food to Room 23
Where the Spanish woman met him with her two French poodles 
I bought a cup of South American java at a Greek Diner
That a Kosher Senegalese short-order cook served every day

I made the sign of the cross – my quivering lips took a cautious sip

I remember when I was a kid
I used to climb high up into the rooftop water towers
I sat and watched the city traffic whiz through the streets like blood coursing
Through some winding asphalt veins
At night I took my penance with whiskey
Wore a cigarette in my ear like a war medal
Tuesdays I ate at the Italian deli
Olive oil on hard crust Sicilian bread
Gave me the runs like Mexican water through a tourist
But it was worth it…just to watch Francesca
With that blonde peach-fuzz on her olive arms spreading the oil
Sprinkling the garlic and tomato bits
With hands that looked like they belonged to a man
The ceiling fan purred above us
Huge cheese bells hung silent and smelled so good
It made me hungry
Francesca called us her Soprasatta boys
And all of us neighborhood kids listened and obeyed her
She had the biggest
Most beautiful tits in town

Irony is cheap in a city of greed
With bootleg music and counterfeit watches
I walked the streets wet in a cool Canal Street rain
Stopped for a tube steak while
Sharing the shelter of a German hot dog vendor’s
Big yellow umbrella
Who for a dollar twenty five
Spread a little sauerkraut like a doctor dresses a wound
And grand fatherly offered me a Jewish knish with
Mustard and napkin – for free

He gave it to me for free

Something I never thought a German would do…
Maybe I had that Nazi figured wrong…well, maybe

But hey, that’s public relations…right?
That’s business…
No hard feelings
I have a German camera at home
I like sauerbraten and Jagermeister

I was getting acquainted with myself
In a moment of lonely desperation and
A National Geographic encouraged me on but…
I couldn’t feel the current through my middleclass skin
I don’t cry anymore…I wear sadness well
I have earned the wrinkles in my forehead…see?
And crows-feet in the corners of my eyes
I’m entitled to something…ain’t I?

So I took a drag from a welfare purchased cigarette
Passed to me by a woman with arthritic fingers
From a top-hat and tails time
She looked like she could have been an Andrews Sister
Things were different then
Acapulco Gold? Tampa Red? She asked
Wow, you must be an artist…I said
The jump an’ jive routine rules
In the weeds of that old woman’s smile
I found an orphan grain of beauty
She showed me a picture of herself at twenty-one…
Twenty-one and…

I think I fell in love with that old lady….

God, that hag had cleavage as deep as a century is long
Legs that curved like a highway to heaven
A smile that may have turned heads in Times Square -- at noon, 1949

“Don’t ever grow old she whispered…”

That scared me.

It was almost like falling in love with something dead
Like that beautiful Gail Russell or Ava Gardner
Where does beauty go?
It’s almost like seeing your own destiny as a cruel
Well-fed fat sick….joke
Where will my strength go?
What will I be left with?
Who will I show my photograph to?

Will they laugh?

Maybe God let man invent the camera -- to torment him
Like this could be humorous in some way
Years from now:

“Here, take a look at this picture of me…I used to be beautiful.”

“That’s you?”

“Yeah, that’s me.”

“You were beautiful….back then.”

Back then?

So I sat alone on a park bench and
That old cosmopolitan woman walked away with
Her school girl grin in tact
Butt in high gear -- still teasing the air around her
Played it like a piano
I turned and looked away…

A black man with the Sign of David around his neck
Was fingering thru a dozen old reggae albums
Leaning over into a wooden milk crate under a folding table
On the ground at Seventh Avenue
A little taped sign read:  Fifty Cents Each
His body bopping with rhythmic joy -- finding these treasures
Men will get on their knees for a good bargain
This qualifies
A good vinyl fix is hard to come by
I wonder if there’s a crate filled with blues under that table too
Men will get on their knees for a good bargain
                                                                  Some women qualify

A refuse engineer carrying a canvass bag and stick with a sharp pointy tip
Wearing a turban came by and lifted my feet -- smiled politely
He stabbed a dog-eared Downbeat Magazine from under my bench
And silently stood with wide-eyed wonder
Peeling the damp pages open carefully and grinning
In his heavy foreign accent he apologized to me –
Confessed that he dug….Miles Davis

Go figure

Then, an Irish cop passed -- squinted at me, studied my face as if
                                    I were his wife’s left over corned beef and cabbage
He didn’t hassle me –
Simply added that Davis was a hack trumpet player – not as good as Satchmo
He smiled…what does an Irishman know about jazz anyway?
Must be lonely walking a beat alone
Brylcream in your hair, shoes polished to a glare
People seldom approach him like he could be their friend
I guess that weapon is like getting too close to…someone with the flu
He spoke with a Brooklyn accent…with roots in Boston
Like a Norman Mailer Kennedy…looking like an Alan Hale Cagney
I’ll bet he shaves only twice a week -- wears boxers

There was a bag lady – a homeless woman –
Sitting close by as I read the Daily News
She nudged me and whispered:
“I married a man who had my maiden name
         So just like everything else in my life, nothing changed.”

I chuckled
And that was as good as an introduction
We shared a bottle of Bailey’s
She fished out of a garbage can near an uptown Jazz club 
She began to weep that well-rehearsed weep -- I had see it all before
How she was once a very successful novelist
Even knew a few gangsters

She did speak with a very refined voice.

I pulled my cell-phone from my pocket -- tried to make a call but…
The homeless woman pointed and asked if I knew how that phone worked

I didn’t

She belly laughed like a sailor and said some Hollywood actress invented some type of
Spread-spectrum communication technology
And college boy didn’t know how a cell phone worked.
A Hollywood actress?
I acknowledged with ignorance and doubt
As I got up to walk away she shouted to me:  “Hedy Lamarr….it was Hedy Lamarr….”
I kept walking
Her muffled whispers trailed in the distance…..

“Look it up kid. Educate yourself”

I did days later out of curiosity. She was right. Hedy Lamarr.
There are moments I wished I had amnesia

This morning as I walked alone it began to drizzle
I approached a village record store
To get in out of the rain
I noticed there was a Russian clerk with a Russian accent
with a chipped tooth
I asked him if he had any Coleman Hawkins jazz records
So he responds like an Alabama bluesman ~

It was hilarious

Like a “jen u ine black boy from norleans, dig?”

Dimitri used an over ripe banana from Dagastino’s
As an imaginary saxophone
‘Cause everybody has a right to be cool nowadays
Everybody hates Americans but
Everybody wants to be an American
He even had worn jeans on with a peace sign patch
– sported a pair of scuffed Doc Martens
                                              Smoked Marlboros, too

New York…what a town.

So, again I stopped just long enough to think about it
Just a little longer than all of the rest
See…it’s not as serious as most would believe it to be
                                In many ways WE are all the same

This morning I saw a white bread priest blessing people
Who drew a last pay check
On what was a clear blue day
That ended in a gray September cloud 2001

I found myself wondering
Was she pretty? Did he like the Yankees?
This apprehension in wondering…wondering…wondering
There’s wild beauty in the collection of smoke and courage
And there are those who must survive sorrow

And I stopped just long enough
To think about them
Just a little longer than all of the rest
See…it’s more serious than most would have you believe
Fear never wears out its welcome

The blood in my veins
Always arrives at the same destination
Despite who I am
I thought I’d never find any Americans like me here
But between the heartbeat of its endless streets and windows
Down inside its subways -- or spreading jam on bread
Sipping diet cola with a cheese burger or riding buses or old red sled
                                               Down a hill in Central Park
                                                                                Or running up a stairwell of a
                                                                                                      Burning skyscraper
                                                                                                                          To save a
                                                                                                                                    Stranger like…
He said his name was Angelo
And her name was Donna
His name was Shabbir
Her name was Charlotte
His name was Manny
Her name was Sarah
Her name was Denise
His name was Wai-Ching
His name was Michael Diaz-Piedra
His name was Steven Patrick Cherry
Her name was Moira Smith
Lamar Demetrius
Someone named Jesus and
        Someone named Mohammad

Oh yeah…there was a Jesus in that building…
alongside a Mohammad and a female police officer...


Check the death scrolls
These names weren’t added for poetic effect

Divine coincidence ?

Are these
The capitalistic American pigs the world hates?
Can we check the pronunciation of those names
One more forsaken time?

Because none could tell their race or religion on that day
Because they all wore gray ash

If you could find them
I found Americans in those names…
Did you ever really see one?
I did.

I took a ride in his cab
I ate the hotdog he was serving
She sat on that park bench with Hedy Lamarr on her lips
And one even played an imaginary saxophone trying to be cool

And he was

Time may write a short term epitaph
In each sad and angry face
With names that end in vowels and those that do not
With faces posted on city poles and subway walls
‘Cause you see…it is important
More important than most would believe it to be
Bad things will always happen to good people

I take my leave and live with ghosts
Others sleep in a terminal dreamland
A donut and coffee
On a desk no one can find anymore
The twilight ones
Who made a last phone call
On a blue sky day in September
And left their cars in parking lots silent and…
Did not drive home to a family dinner
The so many who will never
Come home

There are too many sins that can’t be forgiven
A wound that will never heal
Eyes that will never see  again
A wish never to be granted
Words that should have been spoken
And a hard crust Italian bread with oil
That still waits to be eaten
By a little Soprassata Boy
Who instead poured a last glass of wine
To toast his father

And I’ll always wonder about the truth in the words
a homeless man once said:

“With all their education and diplomas
Current psychiatry will always fail
                Because doctors are unable to help us
                                                  Forget the past”

Ars Longa Vita Brevis

Words by John Apice (aka LaStrada)

All names listed are real people lost Sept. 11th 2001
Personal friends: Steven Cherry & Michael Diaz Piedra
Moira Smith - NYC Police officer and mother who called in
the first strike on the World Trade Center
Lost in the World Trade Center 9/11/01

Some of the final words of this poem were spoken during an interview
With a homeless / nameless man from Canada 1983 who had his own
Philosophy about why he was the way he was.

Ars longa vita brevis = Latin: Art is long Life Is Short
Soprassata – an expensive Italian salami

The hero: the nameless person who stood in a crowd and wept for strangers on 9-11.

C-Copyright-Registered House of Apice Poetry 2002
© Copyright 2010 LaStrada (lastrada at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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