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The building was long and listing,
brown brick leaning back
from patches of dry lawn,
when my cheeks were flushed
from Harvey’s, hands warm
in my pockets, out in the light snow,
over to view the vacant apartment
not far from my haunt,
the Commodore Hotel bar,
on that day.
See now how the seasons have become
whole years, indelible presents fading
to patterned past lives,
rolled together like vintage
and not only the seasons
but the era we were living,
our hair let down, our long denim strides,
gaudy dreams ascending
then tangled in Old St. Paul’s
centurion trees, F. Scott’s problematic
residence in the long brownstone
rowhouse its own kind of ambience
and mental weather– mist and cobwebs
for an aesthete’s depression.
That day I dutifully climbed
three flights, unlocked the door
to the east light pouring in.
I went to the long casement windows
that opened to a Juliet balcony.
There was an oak tree whose branches
brushed the wrought iron railing—
enough room for one chair,
one poet. Once more, as I had,
all up and down Ramsey Hill,
I brought in what I had portaged
from the last cheap garret
overlooking the Mississippi.
I remember now what I had left
to fill that bruised and planked space,
to quell its echoes;
A sage velveteen couch
from Formerly Finnemans Antique Store
in Mahtomedi. My great-grandmother’s
spindly bird-s eye maple drop-leaf
writing desk, there in the corner—
the typewriter set up in frigid expectancy,
in a non compos leer.
The brass bed given to me
was hauled up by friends,
assembled, fitted once more
with one in a dynasty
of stained box springs
overly christened and pocked mattress,
its tufts flattened.
Walt Whitman litho over the bed
harbinger of the body
straining to be known
and know itself.
Would my own midnight cryings out,
sedate neighbors passing by,
elicit a Bergmanesque rejoinder?
And the family crest
Mother had set over my crib
on Guadalupe Trail
back in Albuquerque,
bringing me home,
commencing brief idolatry
of her girl child
before vanishing, far gone
with Seagram’s madness
into the adobe sanitarium
on the infinite desert.
The crest was a severed hand
with a falcon perched upon it
within a shield–
a bird of prey whose amber eye
looked down at me in my crib,
a ribbon with the inscription
Deus Mihi Providebit.
and my name.
What made me hang it once more
to lie beneath it so vulnerably
in my ruthless nights?
As soon as there was music,
Brubeck or Snow, or before
I sat at the desk, Bach playing lowly
I would feel around the edges
of my new home, uncork
my last bottle of cheap red.
But then the surprises
that always come just when life
seems new again, recharged
by a tenuous settling in–\
Phebe Snow on the stereo
crooning San Francisco Bay Blues—
I, in early wine-burn
when my loneliness lagged
into apoetic solitude, nether rooms
softened by shadow—
my self-obsessed role at the time:
a gypsy long-hair
who excelled at dusting off
broken men, staunching my loneliness
with them, profaning
untrammeled and holy night.
After Snow it was Piaf
Je ne regrette rien
I sang along saltily
although salty regrets aplenty
coursed the veins of my being.
The first night in 339
the night hawks began
to wake and chur and arise
a whole cache of them
in the old oak tree—they rushed
aloft, with their odd little cries
making acrobatic love to the twilight.
When they flashed past
barely visible from the eye’s
I felt the nearness of others
in the nest in the oak trees,
the guy next door always in a hurry,
kind, driven, I thought,
in a half-running walk.
The young girl down the hall
Living in with an inscrutable man
who taught somewhere, or who
was what we called in those days
a community organizer.
It seemed only weeks
of settling into that place,
dressing at dawn,
digging the VW out of the snow,
off to school to poetize
before a sea of wide-eyed kids
that my father called me
begging me in a whisper
to come home.
It was not long after Christmas
when I had last braved the long interstate drive
from St. Paul to Colorado
to hold them, my broken parents
disappearing into their unruly clothing,
to rage at them, then drink,
and beg their forgiveness.
He had been going down with emphysema
for a decade. I had watched his
adaptation to retrograde merman,
his gaping mouth and gills
like a trout’s thrown back,
writhing on the hook of his disease,
He cajoled me in that whisper. But by then
I was welded to 339; I had found the pub
a short walk from the building, out the back door;
I had a Puerto Rican lover, a lawyer,
our long and desperate clenches
in the dark. Once he was sated and gone
I would go to the night hawks
praying they would sing to me
Nothing fixes anything, nothing
stays, climb, climb then to the stars
I heard them sing in a thin and high scree
the bel canto of tiny hearts with wings—
I knelt like Turandot in surrender,
tears ruining my grease paint.
It was true—he would die this time,
the nurse said.
Oh the locking of doors behind us,
the leavening of small measures of freedom,
how in 339 everything would seem
in its right place
and then at midnight
the immortal bat in the chinks
high in the closet I could not
evict from my life
would indubitably shake loose
his wings and drop
from the shelf, strafing
all of my tableaus in elation,
knocking my miniature Noah’s Ark
and its reassuring two by two
survivors of floodwaters to the floor,
I, occupant gone missing.
Copyright 2015 Jenne’ R. Andrews.