On Metro North, city-bound, the Hudson
unspooling. The surface is glassy and then sometimes
it ripples, says my ten-year old, Camilla,
as if she’s describing the python-like body of Time
slithering through our fingers. We get a text:
Julia, her basketball-playing babysitter, needs
ligament surgery. The train releases us
from its long, thin body. Three years from now,
Camilla, in puberty’s funhouse, might mandate
ten yards of distance from my body in public,
so I’m trying to drink in the closeness now,
tugging her by the hand through mid-day Manhattan,
business people slaloming the sidewalk
in rolled-up sleeves, taxi windows scrolled down.
Let’s light a candle for Julia, Christine says matter-of-factly,
darting into a side door of Saint Pat’s. I expect
a couple tourists, two minutes max, but a service
is mid-bloom, hundreds in the pews. We slide in
to show Camilla how God works. A robed man
sings at a lectern, his voice—a butter knife
scraping fibula. Christine leafs through the prayer book.
My eyes go up and up to the chiseled ceiling.
The robed man’s voice solves every crevice.
And I’m not religious and have no idea
what he’s saying, but something happens
on this unnaturally hot autumn day. I don’t have to hold
my face together anymore. This is a place
where you can let your face go.
And here it goes God, take Jamie’s slumped body
from the sidewalk, blood seeping from his abdomen,
like whisky from a paper cup. Take my mother
and her wheelchair, and the six-year-old girl
behind her seventy-eight-year-old face. And take Julia’s knee,
and my brother whose mind is elasticating
in two directions, like that Stretch Armstrong doll
we had as kids—how we pulled and pulled
to make him rip, but he wouldn’t, so we jabbed
a screwdriver into his ribs, the purple Gelatin
oozing out, the purple Gelatin in my brother’s brain,
but I don’t have to be strong now. All of New York
felt like this in the first weeks after 9/11, people
sobbing in cafes, the fronts of fire stations
transformed into open-air flower shops, the clenched
expressions of the homeless suddenly apropos.
Invisible church singers belting out Ave Marias
on every corner, the smell of Christ’s twin burnt bodies—
all you had to do was open your lips an inch
and let the mist into your lungs
and that was a homemade Eucharist. Bless the red-light
camera that took a little bite of my soul. Bless
the tooth dead in my mouth. Bless the bulb
dead in its socket. Bless my father
almost six months in the Earth. Bless the lungs
of the holy man singing. Bless this body
that has another thirty thousand miles left
according to the doctor, aka the mechanic of the flesh.
Bless the silence. Bless the hiss. Bless the punch.
Bless the kiss. Bless the lemon. Bless the lime.
Bless the fishbone in the throat of time. Bless
the fabric. Bless the rip. Bless the flame
swallowing the wick. The hour. The minute. The tick.
The day started like any other: a VW Bug
with a deer-crunched fender, followed by a flipped Volvo
flat-bedded back from the desert, then a two-Heineken lunch
and a RAV 4 with dings on three panels. There was some pot
in the happy hour parking lot, a sunset that looked like
listening to Joy Division in a bathtub, as a trio of birds
circled the pink sky like a dog chopped into parts,
Damien Hirst-style, but still alive and chasing its tail.
Back in the bar, I overheard a snippet of a couple’s argument,
and was lit just enough to stick my snout in and tell them
who was at fault. You see a car on its side and blood
on the pavement. I see the penmanship of the Lord,
the seeds of negligence in the drip, drip of an oil leak.
A mere glance at a skid mark and I can hear the brakes howl,
feel the car’s left wheels rising from the pavement,
a stream of vowels spurting from the sunroof’s mouth.
JEFFREY MCDANIEL is the author of six collections of poetry. His newest book, Holiday in the Islands of Grief, is forthcoming from the University of Pittsburgh Press in March, 2020. One of the poems from that collection was featured in Best American Poetry 2019. He teaches at Sarah Lawrence College and lives in the Hudson Valley.
More by Jeffrey McDaniel:
Poem in the April 2015 issue
Poem in the November 2013 issue
Poem in the August 2013 issue