Friday, April 27, 2007

Poem: Distance Creates

[picture of door on the cat alley in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Note cat lounging on step.]

This poem is very very different from my usual style. Inspired by Whitman as seen through long, long lines and descriptions and all that. It's the leading poem of my senior work.

Distance Creates

I always forget I live on top of a hill,
But I remember when I walk by the tiny park where I used to play during my nursery school days, when Manhattan didn’t exist.
Some nights, when I walk by the open gates, I see the rest of Queens glittering at my feet,
The yellow streetlamps, the white fluorescents of living rooms, the red backlights of cars moving faster than I ever could, all against the backdrop of the dark sky.

If I squint, I see the brightly lit JFK, where blinking red-and-white airplanes took me away from my hill in the night to different hills across the continent and overseas,
Where narrow cobblestone streets were paired with even more narrow uneven sidewalks,
Where turquoise waters were still and warm and the breeze blew sand into my hair,
Where palm trees replaced oaks and the fog softened the sunlight and faintly chilled the air,
Where, eleven years ago and eighteen hours away, muddied monsoon rains spilled onto the floor, covering my eleven-year-old feet.

Racing along the BQE and staring at Manhattan's east coast where the Citicorp Center glowed purple and the Empire State pink,
I remember standing on the ledge of the Empire State and seeing the bridges leading to Brooklyn, Staten Island, the Bronx, Jersey, and back home to Queens, the dark, empty gaps where parks are, the white light surrounding Times Square, and I look again for the neatly lined lights of JFK,
And I remember how small the city really is.

The second time I ever flew, I stole a window seat as the plane slowly emptied after thirty-minute-long stopovers: Amsterdam, Dubai, New Delhi, new places I’d never been to before and all in one trip, I breathed in their air.
Landing in Zia International Airport, Bangladesh was green and humid and I saw women collecting long stalks right along the runway from my window.
In a third-world nation and I’m ten hours ahead, Tuesday to New York’s Monday in this tiny country where my parents grew up.
For two sweltering months, we trapped frogs in steel bowls, pushing them back in with sticks when they tried to escape and begged our pet goats, chickens and ducks to run away before unknown men sacrificed them in our names.

Covered in mosquito bites, we returned home with the scent of jackfruit on our skin.

In Isla Verde, there are no waves; the Puerto Rican water gently creeps onto the beach, back and forth, bringing tiny pink and purple seashells to the shore,
My heels dig back into the white sand and overhead, planes roar from Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport where I landed a day before.
I am in this tropical far away with time change and spring becomes summer in May with one plane ride.

Old San Juan shuts off its streets so we can walk from bar to club drunkenly safe and
Near the brilliant dark blue San Juan Bay and Caño de San Antonio, families stay up past two in the morning, laughing and sipping virgin piña coladas along the old fortress walls.
We walk on Calle de San Francisco to the elevated Castillo San Cristóbal and we see a different version of the Atlantic Ocean–clear, dazzling, equatorial water that tastes a bit sweeter.

Far Rockaway Beach is covered in the beer cans and cigarette butts that strong tides devour like lives,
I look out to the east where the sky and water blend into one big bright hazy blue,
And I hop through sand that burns and broken shells that cut my feet.
The New York sun darkens me slightly before I leave again.

Across the continent and six hours away in San Francisco, their forty-three hills give perfect city views, and with every step I take, my muscles stretch.
From their tops, I see the red rusted bridge to my left where I biked to a slanted boating town, the soothing blue bay, and other house-covered slopes below me.
Climbing down to below sea level, my ears pop from the sudden altitude change and I mingle with palm trees and I drink up the crisp California air.
On Baker Beach with the same red bridge to my right, I step into the lukewarm Pacific and break away from the heat wave that I left behind in the East and my soles grip on polished green and red and black pebbles, smooth from western waves.

From SFO to JFK, I fly higher than those hills and I see the same bridges, the same parks, the same beach, the same hills where I was a few hours before and I could fit everything in my palm perfectly.

New York City is flatter and too familiar to me,
And I crave something different.

1 comment:

80s babii said...

wow. That was cool. you had me there with you.