by R.A. Villanueva and Cristiana Baik
You walk between Worth & The Church of the Transfiguration, lost among the pictograms and calligraphies, thinking of oyster sauce. Every backalley will seem to split into thirds. The walls around you lurch, larded with signs. Flowers and nightgowns dry on the escapes. An elderly man spits to the cobblestone, wipes his mouth against each arm. No one offers directions to what cannot be found alone.
The arcade is lit by the yellow-red of lamps and a glow thrown across the faces within. They arrive here, like you, because there is nowhere left in the city like this, with the cabinets’ mad chirp, the ruckus of tokens, tribes of gestures and knuckles. It appears before you with alarum castanets, a colony without sense of time.
A sense of time.
In all directions, do we forget. Even
with our sight, we forget.
Is it terrifying, the simplicity of this logic,
the blanketing pavement
that is money.
It is 1925. The Bowery is bound
trays of alleys, keeps
of chimney stacks crossed by shadows
of laundry lines, flickering
gas-lamps, their light dove-coloring
towards windows propped open.
To listen to the night
emanating with the murmurs and rumors
we will wake up to.
As the rumors say, there is a chicken in the rear of the room waiting to play against you for a purse of fortune cookies. A game of X and O from his cage made of glass.
But what you watch for are the gathered boys, their claps and clutch of hands. You watch them watching through each other. Kicks of lightning, punches of ice, their chosen bodies throwing fire across an agora, or above a pit of thorns, cartwheeling across the crown of a dirigible. If not for gravity, how high they’d be. Each aerial and forearm guard named, each super move and finisher announced loudly into the sky.
It is 2011. He describes
the chicken-wire ceiling
being the same as it was in 1925.
And everything else except
the occupants remains
as it was in 1925—
windowless hallways with wooden floors,
a large unlit empty lobby ballooning out from
a narrow flight of stairs.
He does not ask questions.
He does not attribute
anything to fate.
Certain mornings there is a quiet
we mistake for peace. It is a highway
through the windpipe of a borough
we convince ourselves is the wash
of some inland sea. Sirens remind you
of swallows, the martial hum of propellers
above the jetty, a mid-morning the color
and weight of gauze.
What we have will leave us soon
enough; we all fail at living the lives
our fathers wished for us.
The augury of nails
and the houses
that harbor them,
the posts and buttresses
who depend on their hold.
I swear upon the water
that washing my hands
makes them easier to cut.
The last of the flophouses
have heroic names,
like the Whitehouse,
the Sunshine Hotel.
He says: this is an “eat-it-or-beat-it hotel”
This all against the backdrop
of the Whole Foods Market,
which vanquish the past
with the certainty of fate.
He taps his fingers
on the edge of a desk.
He says, It’s a funny world,
you know. Time
to lay your head
for a few
the hours turn themselves
into a keep
he says. This
will be last
of the last.