Thursday, May 8, 2014

A NIGHT IN THE HEIGHTS--


My Cubano friend
got a pass
from the shelter
she lives in
to visit her son
for his birthday
& stay overnight.
She has to
get permission
to do those things.
He was about
to turn ten.
She was nervous
about seeing him
and more nervous
about seeing her mom.
Almost a year
had gone by.
She had asked me
a week ago if I could go
with her and after some reluctance
I said, "yes." I've never really
enjoyed meeting a woman's child
and even liked less meeting their folks.

I knew I didn't have to,
but felt stupid
not bringing a present
for the kid. She had told me
that out of his school
he'd been selected
to go to baseball camp
for the summer.
I thought it was good for him
to get out of the dirt&grime&concrete
of Neuva York & smell some grass
& sweet air for a month & bought him
a baseball mitt, hardball, & oil
to work the leather.

The kid's look
was less than welcoming
when he saw me standing
with his mom.
I can't blame him;
he's probably seen many men
standing with his mom,
none of them any good.
Her mom did her best
to hide her displeasure,
but failed.
I could fade an evening,
I thought, and walked
inside. There was a smell
of death there. Her mom
had cancer & couldn't hide
that either.

Still, she cooked chuletas
with red peppers&onions, rice&beans
& plantains, and once the awkwardness
was replaced with the symbols
of love, the air
lifted. Mother/daughter spoke
in a language I didn't know while
her son spoke to his mom in language
I did know.
I took the kid aside when the women talked
and gave him the present; his eyes widened
as only ten year old eyes can & I began
showing him how to loosen the leather by
messaging the oil into it, working and reworking
the give and finally putting the ball into its center,
tying a string tightly around the middle and putting it
under his mattress that night. He listened
as only ten year old ballplayers can.

Grandmothers & great grandmothers
are the guts of this nation,
of this world. It's been steadily
downhill for the past forty years.
Freud was right:
if we don't work out ours and societies neurosis,
the string will slowly unravel for the next
& the next & the next. The fabric
just gets weaker. Cycles
have consequences.

Occasionally,
I peaked at my Cubano squeeze
while she talked with her mom,
both were animated, silent,
demonstrative, waving hands
& arms, shifting positions,
& crying all together, separately,
throughout.
She knew I knew
about medical shit
and asked me over.
I listened
& talked some
& tried to be hopeful,
but realistic. The old lady
was not going to make it
far. I think she respected me
for not sugar coating
what she knew in her heart,
but daughters are another
matter.
It got late,
the kid went to bed,
but not before
hugging me
then burying his head
against his mother's flesh,
kissing her & his grandmother
& saying goodnight.
Alexis walked me out
and we had a few cigarettes
together & spoke.
She needed to get out
of the shelter
& take care
of her own. Enough
time had gone by, enough pain
had been administered, enough people
had been brutalized.
Easy enough
to say,
I know.
When you've been pimped
in some hotel room in Philly
since you turned fifteen,
it's a Herculean task,
but not impossible. No,
not impossible.

She returned to her family
for the night & I walked
the streets of Washington Heights
until I found the bus
to take me all the way downtown.
(Fuck the subways & I didn't give a damn
about time.)
I smoked a few more cigarettes
waiting for the bus amidst the bustle
of a Latino community. I felt
more at home there than I ever felt
on Park Avenue, the upper East or West side,
or most other places. I rested my head
against the glass
and just drifted
as the bus lazily
made its way to the Village.

There are a few people
you want to root for.
There are a few things
you want to think about,
and feel
for as long
as you need to--this being
one of them.

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2014

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