"Oh, My City"

Photo by Spencer Cotton

My city,

how do we come to terms with silence and empty stoops
on the first spring afternoon
I hear that the pressure to enjoy it while we can
has people uncorking themselves,
frothing out to parks
like shaken champagne,
I’ve heard somewhere close, in Maria Hernandez or McCarren
or Prospect or Central Park
they’re playing basketball and picnicking
and letting their dogs run loose
but on my street it sounds like nothing
but birds, a few cars passing,
the occasional elevated train,
clear skies and an eerie calm I imagine
is like the eye of a cyclone
strong enough to upend skyscrapers;
my friend who’s a bike messenger
posted a photo of desolate Rockefeller Center,
only world flags gathered around
the ice-skating rink, flaccid
in the windless expanse.

how to make sense
of a Gotham that’s sleepless
from stasis instead of rush
an outbreak of stillness
bridges, their broad bellies empty of cars
rumbling in vain anticipation
of rush hour,
city so still
that at the screech of the A train brakes
only rats come rushing to the platform;
is anyone throwing panic-bought bread
to pigeons?

Broadway theaters in limbo
encores of darkness
haunted by ghost lights
where if you listen closely,
you can almost hear the echo
of rustling programs,
a forest of murmurs,
an oboe tuning to A,
settling dustlike onto
empty seats

we’ve been stocking the shelves
of our souls with slices of Big Apple
dried and sulfured, memories canned
plans skimmed and powdered
already missing the crisp and juice
and creaminess;
I’m starting to feel like a pickle
marinating in worry
solitude an acrid satisfaction
making every inch of my mouth

New York,
by repute
you could say we’re
notoriously well suited

social distancing

but you and I know
that avoidance
is something we’re used
to choosing
that it’s the space
outside our apartments
we really
pay a premium for

my landlord left a note
on my bike
that was locked to the
he thinks despite all this

the inspector
is coming soon:
now the bike
rears upright like a mare
in the corner of the living
room, as out of place inside
as any of us

what I wouldn’t give
to squeeze my body up to a happy hour bar
shout an order for an overpriced cocktail
over the music
to be briefly entombed
with other cat-eyed cleopatras
checking our phones
in line for a stall,
to squat and study the dingy
of the dive bathroom

what I wouldn’t give, even
to weave my way through tourists
taking selfies in Times Square,
dodge crowds and yellow cabs;

T H E ~ B I L L B O A R D S ~ A R E ~ F L A S H I N G

T H E I R ~ A D S ~ T O ~ E M P T I N E S S

is there an emergency fund
for hotdog and halal carts,
bootleg Elmo and Batman?

A city,
a country
a world out of work
a lexicon in flux - what is the meaning
of essential - so many of us
are finding out
we apparently

for now, we are each of us
dimly fluorescing
in the sudden dead air
we find ourselves sealed in,
hovering by air holes,
trying feebly
to make rent on the jar.

Tania Asnes

is a poet, actress, and longtime New Yorker. She’s a graduate of Barnard College, William Esper Studio, and the school of mistaken naïveté. Her poems have appeared and disappeared in Baphash, 24 Magazine, and The New York Times.

All contributions from Tania Asnes

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