Hold hold on Don’t let go I won’t
His voice wind-swallowed in the tunnel
Let you go Don’t stop Look Trust
My hand in a vise my flimsy pumps
Navigating left—jolt right—mechanical gut
The walls roar—the floor grinds—iron teeth—one
Steel door slams shut—I can’t turn back
Steel door resists—Don’t let go—jerks open—slides
Shut—jerks open—slides shut—open—open
Jump past Satan and all his dominion!
I can’t summon that first train to Brooklyn—
Blasting out of blackness onto a cabled
Williamsburg or Manhattan Bridge. Gallantry
Bit my Galahad despite his heart disabled
For infantry. He pushed/pulled like I’m his wife
From rocket subway car to the other—
No seatbelt, one inch under the radar,
Like smoking weed in a storm of thunder—
He played with danger—why not my life?
Internet searching in the wee hours. Old subway maps to Brooklyn. Williamsburg? Where in Creation that West Indian hairdresser? Kind and quizzical, her eyes almost asked me out loud, “Where did my father-hungry step-son meet you?” Poor scraps I piece together years after we broke up—she had a home business and said my hair was long, but thin. Insurrection rumbled in Bed-Stuy and Canarsie. Nearby? No, she didn’t live there. But where the Black synagogue? I did the Yom Kippur fast two years straight. In the balcony with the women and children day and night. Improvisational moaning like the Baptists they used to be. Unreeling the Middle Passage…they were the lost tribe of Israel, unmoored, lions of Ethiopia.
Where’s my f*****g check! My money, honey!
Sir, the record says your check—Gimme, gimme!—
Was approved—Where’s it?!—Sir, it will be sent—
You sittin yo a** on my check! Dammit!
The first of the month! Tell my f*****g gut!
Tell my landlord! Motha‑f*****g B***h!
Where’s security? Breaking air.
The mayor? Your cool is dripping, my dear.
Grannies and vets, every hound his fix.
Rose-colored glasses! Stylishly fascist!
Guys like Vietnam grunts too jackass to jump
Niagara, scuba to Cuba,
Hitchhike to downtown Chihuahua;
Girl case workers, a species of college drudge;
Me? A bushy Miss Good & Plenty;
All too empty-pockets for global travel,
Too tongue-tied by bureaucratic tape:
We took body blows, no rape. A dumb pose
Saved nobody’s face. We were the fox
In Lamb Chops’ clothes. The banks. The cops.
Not everybody was a mother. The old woman, half-deaf and bent over. A dark pair of rooms. Was it Flatbush? New Lots? A physician in Germany. Not Jewish, but she got out any way. Only a practical nurse here. A waste. Schermerhorn. Wonderful word! But how did it fit? What subway just off Second near First? The F train all the way from Queens to Coney Island? From end to end I’d never been. No. Mama had taken me to that beach on a church bus. I was eight or nine. Streets like bombed-out movie sets. Black and white and fog stench. Where I now lived with a demon lover was hardly better. Years later I figured he was bipolar. That lovely teen, foraging without a net in Brownsville. A nice college with trees just for girls? One miserable supplementary check before the deadline! I should have slipped it to her out-of-pocket. The bigot! Ms. Smeary Red Lips Manager! And her rat-tooth Uncle Tom secretary! I didn’t do dog whistles. The job was a tip from an African on eternal visa. Grammy raising a dead daughter’s son in East New York. Replace the check he stole? Vaudeville side by side—salt and pepper in my Pollyanna eye!
Cheese doodles and Kool-Aid to drink!
The finest of breakfasts, you think?
The cow jumped out the TV and said Moo!
I laughed but my brother kicked it over the rainbow!
Then Nana tied a bell on kitty’s tail
And said, Don’t get into any more trouble—or jail!
But a mean old troll on the fire escape
Covered all the windows with invisible Scotch tape!
The clickety-clack radiator woke me up
Just in time to dance with my pup!
But I missed the bus the first day of first grade!
Follow the yellow Twinkie road, a pigeon said.
But the witch under the subway track
Dared me to hop on her skinny bumpy back
And fly to the teeny-weeny planet Pluto.
I wanted to go, but I said “I don’t think so.
Today we get juicy hot dogs, beans and rice.”
The witch turned purple and said I wasn’t nice.
But teacher said, Today, we changed the rule.
Meet the new principal. A poet in the school!
From Riverdale in the Bronx. On and off ten years without medical. I never taught poetry within an hour’s trip. All over Brooklyn, mostly. Leaving the #100 Bus at 231st, boarding the Broadway Local #1, switching to the Express # 2 or #3 at 96th, then another switch at 14th for Canarsie. I still picture all those pale, almost pearly pink baby pigeons dead under the elevated. Or was it Bath Beach? Or Bay Ridge? A school there gave me hope. Fridays after lunch all the teachers held club. The children wished and got it—chorus, dance, chess, poetry—what a prince of a principal! His only match was a leader of a school off an eastside highway in the Bronx— a grants-writing whiz! He brought singers from the Met—can you believe it! I suppose…kiddy poems two-fingers-typed and mimeographed, with drawings, paled in comparison. Forty years later, three major moves, including across state lines, every class anthology stacked in a plastic bin…now in my basement…What a sentimental pack rat.
In the end, after that day many years before
As a green grad queued around the square
Of the Brooklyn Museum’s last day show
Of whirling dervish color drunk Van Gogh;
In the end, after one afternoon—no tea and scone,
But sisterly with the Weeksville Lady’s champion;
In the end, after breezy trees and poetry
Dappling the Grand Plaza Library;
In the end, Brooklyn Bridge awe-struck,
Nothing but luggage on a hand-truck,
I made one last stop—goodbye Abraham & Strauss!
A year in the last women’s Y in the universe—
Like a blast from the past—farewell Baptist Temple
Around the corner! Au revoir the bagel
And the knish! K‑12 credentials
To resuscitate! Adiós morning calls
To prayers, Junior’s cheesecake and BAM!
Fifty. That fork in the road is where I am:
My Germantown warehouse homestead.
My gap-year college kid. We’re intrepid.
First poetry editor at feminist Aphra and Ms., Yvonne received NEAs (poetry/1974/1984), a Leeway (fiction/2003), a Pushcart Prize (#6). Author of epic trilogy: Iwilla/Soil, Iwilla/Scourge, Iwilla/Rise (Chameleon). Forthcoming and recent publications: Black in the Middle: An Anthology of the Black Midwest (Belt), From the Farther Shore (Bass River Press/Calliope), Rattle: Poets Respond (6/21/2020), Horror USA: California (Soteira), Is It Hot In Here Or Is It Just Me? (Beautiful Cadaver Project), Home: An Anthology (Flexible), Quiet Diamonds 2019/2018 (Orchard Street), 161 One-Minute Monologues from Literature (Smith and Kraus), and more. Selected online publications: www.iwilla.com.