Yvonne ~ Brooklyn and Me, 1966–1995

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.