welcome to the mainland

stagger from the atlantic's swell

seek land legs on ellis island

floundering through bureaucracy     

and ferried to narrow streets awash

with humanity on the golden shores

of lower manhattan

the brooklyn bridge is a masterpiece

a magnificent temptation

but that alluring long island

stretches east and disintegrates

it points back to the world

you sailed so long to leave

now you migrate north

your ship has come and it has left

you tired and poor

yearning masses huddled and tossed

by the rattle and rock of the train

metal wheel upon metal rail

grinding and sparking

through the wonders of the city

beyond hell gate to paradise

where the tenements are young

where freedom is a peninsula

with heat and indoor plumbing

the brakes squeal the doors

to the new world open

welcome to the mainland welcome

to the bronx where all seems possible

here subways whoosh

underground and roar through the sky

there are rooms for rent

there is always room for one more

friend relative countryman

for one more lost soul

for one more exile

and the horizon fills with brick and glass

behind every silver window lies a dream

which may or may not be fulfilled

and in the cold snuggling of dark winter

or the wriggling of humid summer nights

babies are conceived and they are born

in america

this is not the land of your birth

though the native tongue remains

and the food tastes familiar

at dinner time that old world aroma

wafts through the hallway

the clatter of pots and pans

reverberates in the air shaft

where clotheslines sag with laundry

readied for the great

assimilation of work and school

backyard and alley echo

with multilingual profanity

prayers rise to the heavens

there are churches and synagogues

street corner preachers

rooms where idealists

contemplate utopia and the right

to believe or not to believe

there are times of prosperity

times of common despair

and always the children play

in sandlot and side street

park and playground

they sing and cry and taunt and cheer

there are saloons and speakeasies

and saloons once again

ice cream parlors and candy stores

vaudeville and movies

all manner of entertainment

under the sun and under the moon

war will come and peace will come

again and again and there will be

parades and memorials and protests

you will grow old and remember

those days of struggle and joy

those friends relatives neighbors

lost in a changing world

where streets disappear and housing projects

spring forth like towers of babel

belgian blocks and trolley tracks

drown in rivers of asphalt

and moses parts the land

his great road cleaves its heart

there is exodus

poverty turmoil and tragedy

tenements burn and fall

there is rubble and more rubble

anger and desperation

ash and dust and broken bricks

and a spirit that suffers but does not die

and a hope that emerges

like weeds from the ruin

the survivors will fight

and new americans will come

the void will fill

with townhouses and pocket parks

there will be new music

new art and new words

and the aroma of exotic foods

will waft through the streets

fragrant and pungent


and free

americas s favorite pastime

and so it came to pass that the shortest kid in ninth grade was tired of the tallest kid in ninth grade not tired of the vertical difference but just tired of being pushed around so one bright sunny bronx morning the short kid came with a baseball bat and chased the tall kid around the schoolyard until the teachers took the bat and sent us all to class in this melting pot school where we did not quite fit the recipe so the bureaucracy batted us around and threw us curveballs like having us retake the reading test because our scores were too high and declaring 85 the passing grade and decimating our academically advanced class of those with hispanic surnames or dark skin but maybe this was still better than last year in that other school where gangs beat up anyone who was not violent like that quiet little spanish girl who ran crying and screaming down the hallway after the principal came into the classroom and announced the names of kids who were being kicked out of the program and being sent back to eighth grade in their respective ghetto schools but what did the principal care she was just a little girl from some other neighborhood and this is america this is social darwinism this is junior high school where only the strong survive like that short kid with the baseball bat that they took away but they could not stop him and after school he took out a baseball from his pocket and chased the tall kid all the way to the train station and is it not america's favorite pastime to watch big guys beating on little guys and little guys beating on big guys while spectators laugh and cheer glad they are not getting beat up and just hoping to survive

yankee fan

my cap is navy blue and boldly embroidered

with white interlocking letters

i bought it in my old neighborhood in the bronx

five bucks at a store on creston avenue

a converted newsstand that sells

handbags trinkets statues umbrellas

everything but candy and newspapers

yes the kids and i have inherited

my mother's love for a good bargain

and her loyalty to the home team

but the yankees are always on the road when we visit

so we cruise dollar stores and discount joints

and watch the game on television

and watch grandma watching the game

rooting for hits and home runs

putting whammies on opposing pitchers

screaming with the intensity

of a green bay packers fan when the bears are losing

and i wear my new york yankees baseball cap

all over madison wisconsin

where everyone is so politically correct

and motivated by humanitarianism or legislation

taught from childhood not to hurt anyone's feelings

and these friendly and sensitive midwesterners

are compelled to say hello to passersby

even those wearing new york yankee caps

but like some landlocked progeny

of the ancient mariner they must catch my eye

and tell me with compulsive conviction

that they hate the yankees

and i must smile and listen

to these hardworking middle americans

as they denounce good old american capitalism

at least as it applies to winning teams

but i am too polite to tell them

i mostly wear the cap to keep the sun out of my eyes

though i do have some recall

of kubek boyer and richardson

and an aging mantle hitting a home run

three balls two strikes two outs

in the bottom of the ninth  holy cow

and mel stottlemyre's inside-the-park grand slam

but i was too young to understand the game

and when i was old enough to appreciate baseball

the yanks were so bad they had rocky colavito pitch

and the best catch i saw at the stadium

was made by a fat i mean overweight

i mean corporally-gifted woman

she had a straw hat three feet in diameter

and when the foul ball bounced off a box seat rail

she held up her hat and it went right in

she might have been from the midwest

or the grand concourse and who knows

where she bought that oversized beach hat

and that magnificent muumuu

the fans applauded the beauty of it

finally something to cheer about

and the right field grandstand

gave her a standing ovation

we wanted to offer her a contract

she was built like the bambino

and we needed a new superstar

instead we got a decade of despair

but how can i explain this to those who are compelled

to tell me that they hate the yankees

while i am compelled to listen

i who was raised in the era

before lawyers and psychologists and sensitivity training

raised in an environment so insensitive

it invented the bronx cheer

i who do not hate the cubs or the brewers

though i will not watch the braves

after all those america's team commercials

because this is america and no american

should be told who to root for

and that smiley faced cleveland indians' logo

is too offensive even for my politically incorrect taste

but i do not explain this

it would take too long and these friendly

fellow americans might ask

about my brooklyn accent

even though i am from the bronx

just like the yankees so i let them talk

and when their strange power of speech

is done and they are once again

congenial madisonians

i simply reply

the more you hate us the more we love it

the more you boo us the more fun it is to win

the gambling leaguers

cheer of crowd crack of bat slap of leather

what beauty in the grace of the great

in the arc of arm of ball of leaping body

the skillful passion of these sandlot ballers

these gambling leaguers these seasonal warriors

waging serious sport in parks and playgrounds

on diamonds of clay or asphalt

against a background of bridge and school

of factory and tenement

a colorful panorama of the ordinary

no one asks for autographs

just victory over the tedium of work and bills

and the urban summer's ceaseless heat

this childhood game fought with adult intensity

for stakes of fifty or a hundred per position or more

side bets among spectators and the excitement begins

the fans live and die in suspense

the winners are rich the losers poor

celebration and frustration and the promise

of the next game the next season

so they play till the money runs out

till legs no longer run till arms no longer throw

with the speed and strength of youth and they fade

into the bleachers to wait

to play again perhaps

where summer is eternal

and the umpires


lost again on old subways

i am lost again on old subways

at third avenue station the lights go out

the lunatic laughs

the lunatic who does not appear

until the lights go out

and i cannot see him

and i cannot see what he is laughing at

he laughs and he laughs

death is solemn

but suffering is hysterical

when it happens to others

the three fates the three stooges

torturing each other while the children laugh

until the lights go out and they are stuck

in their own nightmares

and he laughs at my fear

and i laugh at him laughing at my fear

because i am afraid not to

keep the lunatic happy

i have paid my fare and i must journey

there is nowhere to go but where the darkness takes me

and i must get my money's worth

the doors will not open

i cannot depart at the home station

and i slip past my sleeping parents

under the bronx and over the bronx

all the unseen passengers on this runaway train

are laughing and laughing

because we are afraid to stop

we are lost in the bronx

where guns will not save us

and the churches are closed for the night

and the candles lit for the souls of the dead

have burned out and the priests

have locked the rectories

and we are laughing too hard to pray

and we are laughing so hard we almost enjoy it

we have transformed we are the laughing commuters

of the IRT which never looked so good

though we cannot see it as it trembles on

through the night which does not stop

through strange territories where strangers lurk

in the shadows waiting for a few laughs

randalls island


here the sky is blue and the water dark

and the bronx an invisible memory

here clouds roll off the continent

goodbye goodbye go rain upon the old world

should it still exist

here the new city greets ancient tides

at the corner of harlem and hell gate

and distinctions obscure

where is the end where is the beginning

how many have drowned like names in the wind

chaotic currents chaotic streets

the orderly megalithic shoreline

of a fishdead metropolis

a horizontal stonehenge on which to celebrate

existence and the rats seem to dance

i cast my bait into the emptiness

launch my kite to the sun

no fish to catch no one to meet

this is a forgotten island

obscure as childhood     


the confluence of memory and dream

this prehistoric erosion from the mainland

a muddle of time and amazing eternity

there are moments when dandelions roar

in sunlight like british muskets

when summer grass shimmers

as if the present were luminous

while churning and dark the currents

muffle all sound and the unheard

skyline rises to the unspeaking heavens

the delinquent cursed at toil and at play

the institutionalized soul

screamed with rage and frustration

in the infants' hospital the foundling cried

and succumbed to quiet death

the house of refuge the idiot asylum the orphanage

razed and forgotten

and the triborough bridge rises

above park and playground and stadium

amid the wayward whispers of these outcast lands


green ticket booths and silver railings

the bleachers are empty and in the plaza

the bronze discus thrower stands naked and alone

trimmed hedges low walls red brick

i balance between fantasy and failure

beneath the pillars of the viaduct

i learn my clumsy insignificance

this is a sacred place and we bury

songless parakeets in shoe boxes after they die

and launch plastic rockets to the virgin moon

between fact and delusion the line has vanished

the little hell gate has drowned in the garbage landfill

the bridge to the psychiatric hospital

stands irrelevant over a river of grass

and rabbits run mad across evening fields

what insane dreams wander the wasteland

darkness drizzles and night

awakens the restless tenements

wisps of arson smog the horizon and i must return

i must and it seems

even i am not here

triborough bridge: suspension



               road rises

               quickly above green

               shores and gray waters

from astoria to wards island from anchorage to massive anchorage

               graceful cables curve





               with art deco lanterns

atop steel towers that aspire to heaven above the turbulent hell gate     

               bearing the stress of humanity

               festooning the night

               with man



triborough bridge: stasis

where is everybody going

the best part of this bridge is the middle

between here and there

between above and below

between all the points

on the invisible compass

of our existence

between scylla and charybdis

to the east the solemn frown

of the railroad bridge over the bucolic hell gate

to the west the land of opportunity and misfortune

the magnificent skyline

a forest of penthouse and project

where the homeless home in the shadows

humanity is beautiful from a distance

the landfills bloom with green growth

frivolous waves drown the effluence

of the money mad world

to the north the sewage treatment plant

that will never make us clean

and the manhattan psychiatric hospital

and the center for the criminally insane

and the abandoned asylum

where inmates laughed at pedestrians

as they walked across the sky

in the longago days of carefree strolls

before random violence

before muggings in broad daylight

the happy people of wards island

picnic beneath trees

to the south children splash

in the clear blue water of astoria pool

imagining that they are sharks

or whales or submarines

imagining that summer will never end

reality is such an imposition

like the grim stone of the war memorial

just beyond their youthful laughter

and above restless clouds drive by

on their ceaseless commute

below there is bedlam and mayhem and the tides

swirl over suicides and shipwrecks

but here in the middle there is peace

there is stasis

there is the music

of wind murmuring through cables

why must every polluted river be crossed

here words are invisible

and the past is no more

the future is but the loss of the present

leap to the sky

not to fly

jump to the water

never to swim again

walk ashore

to live and die in the eternal city

where the meek await to inherit

what is left of the earth

o the hovering the hovering

triborough bridge: genesis

in the beginning there was the land and the water

the water separated the mainland from the islands

and moses said may there be a great bridge

to join the islands to the islands and the islands to the mainland

it was good and moses said

may there be roads and highways that lead to the great bridge

that joins the islands to the islands and the islands to the mainland

it was good and moses said

may there be parks and playgrounds

for the people in the cars that drive

on the roads and highways that lead to the great bridge

that joins the islands to the islands and the islands to mainland

it was good and moses said

may there be money to build the great bridge

and the roads and highways and parks and playgrounds

and behold there was money

the nation went to work and it was good

the steel industry lit its furnaces and factories reopened

loggers logged and sawmills sawed

railroads hauled lumber across the continent

laborers constructed wooden frames and poured cement

barges ferried girders over the water and towers rose

cables were wound and anchored

the deck suspended and the roadway paved

the great bridge joined the islands to the islands

and the islands to the mainland

there were parks and parkways and the president

came for the opening ceremony

and the people came and rushed to be first

to pay the toll and cross the great bridge

and more people came to pay the toll  

more people and more money

money that could be used to build more bridges

and it was all good

but moses did not rest

triborough bridge: kinesis

an automobile vortex

where three bridges meet

twelve directions of traffic

twenty-two lanes that do not intersect

cars can go from here to there to another there

this is america and there are tolls

to pay and toll booths to collect the money

and police to collect those who do not pay the toll

but we kids are oblivious to the wonders of engineering

and we have no money to give to trolls

we run and scream and fight monsters

in the cement towers of the bronx span

we want to ascend the spooky staircase

and explore the walkway to manhattan

but mommy herds us to the playground on randall's island

where she can sit in the shade and talk to the matron

while the cars whirl overhead

and harry sits on his hill

a small patch of grass bordered by an access ramp

beneath the grand junction

where the harlem span meets the viaduct

harry in his undershirt

drinking his quart of beer hidden in a brown paper bag

basking in the sun and alone in the quiet

he does not build bridges

he does not have a car

he works hard and dies in poverty

they give his ashes to the winds

and he intersects

with everywhere in the great universe

as cars speed by

and the commuters take no notice

astoria park

the memorial is a tombstone

gray as war

gray as the hell gate's insane tides

gray as the triborough's symmetry

gray as the psychiatric hospital's lobotomized windows

gray as the railroad's commerce

gray as the skyline of the glorious city

gray as the storm we watched

father and son from the concrete bleachers

the crowd ran from the pool

raindrops splashed on the chlorine

we sat in the gray rain

we sat together

the dead are not buried here

they are gone as are the dolphins

which led the dutchman up this strait

intoxication and shipwreck

visions of the devil dancing on his stones

new amsterdam is gone

the indians are gone

this east river is toxic

it flows north and south

it never was a river

daddy tells stories of sunken treasure ships     

we will never be rich

we will never be but what we are

father and son

forever in the gray rain

with our pot bellies and our pale skin

and our tender feet and our anxieties

our lifetimes of work and responsibility

maybe the car window is open

maybe the apartment is burning down

maybe the boss does not like us

and we will be sucked into homeless poverty

like locker keys into hungry drains beneath waveless waters

our possessions lost in bureaucracy

in america where the rivers are poison

and there are no free swims

this pool was built for the huddled masses

doff those work clothes and be free

bathing suit naked

beneath the lightning before the wind

in a distant memory of childhood

the iron bars keep us safe     

we will not walk into the wine dark tides          

of the hell gate and never return

we simply do not leave     

at night underwater lights shine     

like the new jerusalem

the gray sky darkens with stars

the spirit rises over radiant water

we simply will not leave

the banks of brook avenue

and brook avenue runs

straight through the crooked world

from railroad yard

north to the meat market

and curves and disappears

into the heart of the bronx

where tenements burn and die

and stare black eyed and hollow

like the dead waiting for the soul to rise

and america flies to the moon

and america drops bombs

and america makes war on crime and drugs

but brook avenue never ends

the old mill stream flows long buried

in the great sewer beneath the great street

of the great borough of the bronx

where founding fathers sleep

beneath the shadows of saint ann's church

and indian villages deconstruct

beneath abandoned factories

and the belgian paving stones on which horses clopped

lie beneath the asphalt where automobiles drift

from the bronx kill to the american mainland

and the millbrook housing projects rise to the heavens

above tarpaper roofs where pigeons and junkies

forget their way home

and the brook babbles beneath the surface

and the brook finds its way through the underworld

to the ocean that brings

immigrants to the new continent

they build skyscrapers and railroads

they fight wars and they play baseball

they make money and move to the grand concourse

they make more money and move to the suburbs

or they remain impoverished and searching

for brook avenue grass for brook avenue women

for a steady man for a steady job

for the ship that sails to paradise

the winters are cold in unheated apartments

fire hydrants flood the summer streets with toddlers

and on the banks of brook avenue i see

the world as it is

and the sun beats down

and the bootblacks toil and sweat drops from their brows

and the bootblacks beat beauty into old shoes

and the bootblacks earn a living one dollar at a time     

in america where we vote for our kings

and the police beat whom they wish

and the strong beat the weak

and the women walk to store to church to playground

and the children play beneath shady tenements

where boughs of streetlights

do not dance in the wind

and the children laugh and the children cry

on the banks of brook avenue

and the sun sets and the night rises

and the pool hall grows smoky and serious

and the children dream and the children have nightmares

and the darkness of heaven and the darkness of civilization

and the sighs of the lonely and the sighs of lovers

are indistinguishable

on the banks of brook avenue

where childhood is idyllic

and the world could not be more beautiful

triborough bridge: kinesis

Audio & text:  from the  banks of brook avenue   section III

Click the triangle to listen to the poem while you read it.

welcome to the mainland

america's favorite pastime

yankee fan

from the banks of brook avenue  is available as an e-publication from Smashwords


the gambling leaguers

lost again on old subways

randall's island

triborough bridge: suspension

triborough bridge: stasis

triborough bridge: genesis

astoria park

the banks of brook avenue