sometimes i remember how mad i am

I lived in New York for a few years
and after a little while I stopped noticing lots of things:
garbage piled in a fetid heap on the street,
and the quick slither of rats in the shuddering, shiny black bags;
the smell of other people’s bodies;
small, repeated gestures from the guy on the train
that I did not look at directly
because that shit ruins your day.

New York is a beautiful place to live
when you stop seeing those things
and start to look for other things:
blossoming trees in Prospect Park,
the family playing cricket and passing foil-wrapped bread,
the beautifully cut suit on that man,
and his shined shoes.
It’s nice to see people put together well.

But even if you’ve lived there for years,
sometimes you pass a guy tugging automatically at his lap
and he looks right at you
aw, fuck.

Then you see the rats
rustling in the garbage bags,
like grabbing hands that snake under cloth.

And you smell the people’s bodies around you,
close enough to reach out and touch the inside of you:
sour sweat, old cigarettes, spices,
cloying, desperate rose water.

And you realize that you’re part of this landscape:
the rats, the bastards, the trash,
the constant touch of other people.
You're not the ingenue floating down the sun-dappled avenue.
You're the girl who stepped over a dead pigeon
and made eye contact with a subway creep
and now you're touching all these people on the train,
you’ve been breathing them in this whole time
and they stink and they’re inside you.

All this to say I understand
why you have to turn off the news sometimes.
Like when the state of Missouri legalizes
a state of occupation of your organs.
And why you might not want to look directly
at this fucking guy
who is mad at you for disagreeing with him,
or that fucking guy
who is your friend, I guess,
and is explaining why he has a point,

All this to say,
I know how it feels 
when the delicate shield of your preferred reality disintegrates
and you’re immediately exhausted
(because shields are heavy)
and surprised to find that you
aren’t smiling anymore
(you haven't been for awhile now)
and surprised to find that it feels like your face
is made of the cold black rock 
that was once the boiling liquid 
that poured out of the center of the Earth.

I know how it feels to be suddenly furious
in a way that feels ancient.
As old as you are.

Because it doesn’t feel like someone just now
stepped on your foot.
You don’t want to say “Ouch!”

It feels like you’ve lived your whole life
on the bottom of someone’s shoe.
You want to say, “Not anymore, motherfucker”
and then cut off the foot
and turn it upside down,
set the bottom-side up
for once,
for ever.

I know. I’ve asked myself,
How can I possibly look across the table
at this

How is it possible that I’ve sat here so long
with this
and a smile?

All this to say, I know
how important it is to look for other things,
beautiful things:
sweet children,
cat memes,
Queer Eye,
basically anything on Ellen.

And I know how important it is to look for other things,
sharp things:
people who make vicious jokes and do not apologize
for being honest at this fucking guy's expense.

You live here,
and that’s enough to ask of you.
The fact that you exist is an act of defiance
against that fucking guy.

Just be.
That’s enough to make you scare him.
That’s enough to make you strong.

(Some part of him knows.
That’s why he doesn’t want to have to answer to you.
The thing that scares him most is being treated
like he’s treated you.
He doesn’t like to imagine that you could be anything
but nice to him
from under his shoe.)

You’re allowed to imagine what it would be like
to leave this place ruined under your feet
and whisper to the last compliant survivors,
“Now smile.
You’ll get used to it.”
You’re allowed to imagine.

You’re allowed to float with your eyes closed
and remember only beautiful things.
You’re allowed to need them:
the smooth, scarred wood on the polished old stairs,
the smell of the child’s cheeks,
the way he interrupted the guy
who interrupted you
to say,
“I want to hear what she thinks,”
and then listened
instead of compelling your thanks.

The last time I was in New York
I saw a little kid with his nanny,
the kid white and perfectly neat, the nanny Spanish-speaking,
in a brown down coat.

It was on the Upper East Side
in a bakery that sold $9 croissants made by actual French people,
and I felt angry for that nanny.
This child in her charge had done nothing to deserve
the pleasure of eating a nine-dollar amalgamation of butter and flour.

The child’s shoes cost more than her coat.
The child will pass through open doors for the rest of his life.
The woman has to build staircases for herself to climb.

It was bullshit.
It was bullshit.
It was bullshit.
I was so angry for her.

As they passed me I heard the child ask her
in Spanish,
what she wanted for her birthday?
And could he bake her a cake?
And what kind of cake?
A strawberry cake?
Like last year?

She smiled at him
and I could see how much she loved him,
and I could hear how much he loved her.
It's nice to see people put together so well.

I cried over my coffee 
because it’s still bullshit,
still bullshit,
still bullshit,
but sometimes it’s beautiful, too.

this post is dedicated to O
who is
and it's enough to scare them.

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1 comment:

  1. Ugh - I needed this one today. It's such a good one! Thank you for writing it!