Despedida: Brooklyn to Philly

Patrick Rosal

My late note to Solace reads: Thank you

for the asphalt park on the corner

of Huntingdon and Trenton, where

the skaters rail slide all summer

and their boards ignite tight fires

against the block’s brick and cement.

Thank you, too, for teaching me to live

with the voices licking their way

through my walls and the ones without legs

or wings or ribs I could duck into

to bury a left hook. I can’t murder them

all — not that way. The best I can do

is listen to the hundred cities humming

in my blood. Any veteran of the set

will tell you: if you let any two songs spin

at the same time, there is a point

at which the music will simply line up

— if for just a moment, sometimes longer —

and even when they drift back into their own

galaxies of noise, one enormous

arrangement of metal, wood, and space

clattering into the other, out of time again,

when the downbeats stumble into

the gaps and breaks of another track,

the two simultaneous grooves are what

great dancers learn to move to, swing

and stutter. You just gotta let vinyl fly

long enough. You gotta trust the music.

The body finds it. And I’ll confess, it’s hard

to feel my way into all the two-step

twitch and hip-drops wound up inside

all my sadness, hard as it is to be

a 45-year-old man and weeping

openly on the wide city block where

I’ve made (again) a new home

on a sky-blue day when the apricots

seem to bounce among the topless

boxes crammed into the bed

of the vegetable lady’s pickup.

She’s shouting JERSEY THIS and


she means it, as if to revoke all

the apologies for the place of my birth.

I’ll be the first to admit,

I have never been beautiful

except when no one could see me —

so beautiful that even I couldn’t bear it.

That’s when I began to dream of ways

to float from a silver maple or gather

myself on a road like one hundred thirty

starlings then simply burst apart

before the grill of a fast moving car.

I left Brooklyn and counted each river

I crossed. I know all the bridges, most of them

by name. I owe my madness

and its memory absolutely nothing.

The sanest thing I do these days is kiss

my beloved as long as I can, from her shoulder

to her chin. I lied. There was one other time

I became beautiful. I was far away

from everyone I loved, though I was in a room

full of curmudgeons and stranglers,

technocrats and blowhards. It struck me then,

no matter which way I turned or what

tic on the compass I followed,

I was approaching something that didn’t

kill me. I was nudged nearer my brothers

and everyone else who long ago accepted

my fevers and grief. I was budged toward

at least a few hundred drunken

comrades of foolishness, captains

every one of them, whom I laughed with

or danced against in some shared mourning,

each of us lost at one time or another

in one of seven kinds of bewilderment.

It’s an old curse of mine: to be without

a nation or a home. All of my sorrow

and all of my comfort remains

in this fact. No matter where I turn,

exile’s the zip code, and every step I make,

it looks like I’m always headed back.

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