for Dante Micheaux
No bitterness comes out of thin slices
of lemon loaf you cut at the kitchen
window as I watch from the sofa, thinking:
‘the light catches and frames perfect
each object: bread, knife, and Dante.’
August bends on the stoop, paying another
visit to my years, my fourth summer in New York.
I haven’t learnt the metropolitan tongue,
too provincial, I watch the hurtling line
of crumbs increase under the blade.
At home, some sea is ruining the reef.
At peace with this caress; no one
quarrels but the net that heaves back nothing
this finical year, the lone shark tears through
the haze like a jagged-edge train and brings me
to this hiatus, desolate and vexed;
same with Naso before your namesake, cast
away to another land—this is America, though;
trust the billboard’s promise, the offer of bread
from the mount of a stool, your Sinai.
My fate is stainless as the knife that parted
a friend’s wrist years ago, indigoed the clear
sand tourists visit to watch the sun vanish
into the bay, a metallic reoccurring soap opera
children leap slow to into the sun-rusted water.
The spill of yellow on the granite counter
is the sand of home minimized to amnesia,
friends dwindling like accounts, accounted
for in fragments, mentioned and forgotten
to the continent’s widening grasp.
America’s promise does not extend to Harlem.
The Renaissance blows like garbage in the street,
acid-eyed addicts stare through me, puzzled
at how still I stand in the vomit of people
coming from underground, blinking out light.
I don’t know how they escape Charon
and why they go back in the dozens,
to be unloaded on the moving blocks,
avenues that advertise panaceas
for their dark blues, their anxiety and hunger.
An ant takes a crumb on its black back.
Once more Sisyphus strains across the sink
to my sea, all our seas, but the single sea
of my point of view before knowing this world,
or you, salt flitting my eyes, admiring
the smile in the blade, the last yellow
piece to leave your hand. A riddling absence
fills me and the turn of the faucet brings
the flood, crumbs brushed into the gurgling hole,
pulling down from the window the summer light.
“Harlem Summer” first appeared in Gulf Coast, Winter/Spring 2012.