I'm writing a series of poems for a very good friend of mine who visited New York City for the first time last month. The writing is gaining in momentum though my ideas on the narrative, characters and themes are only developing as I write. So the pieces posted are rougher than my usual ones. Here's the first part:
1. Hotel Peninsula
Thanks for bringing me around New York City! Have enjoyed my time with you, especially when it’s just me and you alone...
Who did I think I went to meet at JFK?
A friend, of course, of ten uneven years, an ex-
colleague, a Malay woman, to whom race and sex
counted for less than yet another damn birthday,
at least on your first outing to my new birthplace;
the first old friend I told about my first boyfriend,
an outing of a different kind that puts an end
to false romantic barricades like age and race.
You saw me before Hudson News, and recognized
what? My face? Arms folded across blue tee? A glow?
Convenient signs that told you where to find Cosmo
or me on your arrival. Defamiliarized
through your dark eyes, I saw my solid ghost direct
the cab to Madison Square Garden, overheard
me overhearing the Algerian driver flirt
on his cellphone, and worried your trip would be wrecked.
The Honda trundled through the tunnel of the night
lit by occasional lamps jammed in the black wall.
No sights worth seeing. No names I could name at all
except self-interpreting road signs, green and trite.
Then, at the tunnel’s end, light reached in and pulled us
out before straightening itself up to skyline.
Manhattan! I cried needlessly. It was a sign
recognized from movie screen and moving bus.
All too quickly the image decomposed to dots
and dashes as we entered the electric grid.
Cars, bikes and skateboards powered down the roads or slid
round corners where lovers and World Cup idiots
milled in confusion before flowing to the four
compass directions. The Algerian navigated
us to Hotel Peninsula, accepted the fated
fee and, still sporting with love, pushed off from the shore.
Peninsula! A name that conjured vast pictures
of home—pasir, bukit, sungei, kuala, pulau—
and travel—beach, hill, river, estuary, island—
a name you chose from hundreds in online brochures
as if to find, in this old island, an isthmus
between friends, straight woman and homosexual man,
between what are, in this new grid, familiar and
recognizable, sign and meaning, between us.