The kind you’re born with, the kind you choose, the kind that teach Catholic school
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It’s all mixed up for me now with the way I felt about New York:
how I hated the subways, stood back from the tracks
so no one would push me in front of a train
the way someone did to a woman at another station; her legs were sheared off.
I stared at the junk on the rails — condoms, broken combs —
and listened to the robotic voice of the loudspeaker
as it jerked out its warnings to stand clear.
I remember hot blasts from air conditioners as I walked down the street,
the yelling in six different languages, the smell of hot dogs and mustard,
the sound of someone vomiting against a wall,
shopkeepers slamming iron grills at night.
I worked on a street where ginkgoes were lashed to poles,
their trunks skinnier than the rubber thongs that held them.
The day that it happened,
my teacher had written crap on the bottom of my first poem.
I wanted to throw it into the Hudson
where it would sink with its no
under the gulls, the garbage scows, and the litter.
What I had written was flawed, but it was mine,
and as I walked down the stairs
into the station, past an Orange Julius counter,
juice sloshing in a vat,
I noticed a poster: At 37, Gauguin just got out,
and I started to think how I could get out,
and I decided to ride to the Botanical Gardens.
I walked to the back of the park
and sat under a tree.
I wasn’t thinking of the chance I was taking —
I just wanted to stitch myself together with a few blades of grass —
when a man uncrumpled himself from somewhere
and stood and said, “Talk to me.”
I got up, and he followed,
and as I thought, Don’t run yet, I started to run,
he started to run, he tore off my coat and threw it down,
we wrestled back and forth on the asphalt path,
I couldn’t think, I was flailing,
when a businessman —
briefcase in one hand, folded New York Times in the other —
saw us and stopped and backed away:
the guy let go of my dress, bolted,
and I stood that night in the subway car,
staring at the scuffed windows,
where someone had spelled out slut, cunt
in the dust.