Friday, July 20, 2007

Revision of "Only the Scene Has Changed"

Talk about New York
for R.

1. To 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...

Whom 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

coming 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 put an end
to false romantic barricades like age and race.

You saw me before Hudson News, and recognized
what? My face? Arms akimbo? Pose contrapposto?
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 phone, feared again the fear of being wrecked.

The Honda spurted 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
you recognized from Woody Allen’s magnum opus.

All too quickly the image decomposed to blots,
streaks, drips and splatters, then to spats of neon light
our taxi shot, from traffic light to traffic light,
veering from swabs, solicitors and World Cup sots

confusing—triumph, trade and travel—street corners.
Unfazed, our Algerian cabby navigated
us to Hotel Peninsula, susurrated
to his phone, took his tip, and 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 place, familiar and
recognizable, sign and meaning, between us.

2. Visual Sense

…the leisurely sightseeing, the photos that you so gamely took so that I won’t look like an ant.

You know how helpless a photographer I am.
With no manual knack, I own no visual sense,
not enough anyway to frame beautiful scenes
into souvenirs. Thank goodness for the Digicam!

Freed to retake my mistakes in memory sticks,
I reached for Liberty’s diadem-spears and torch.
You, my dear R., appeared the size of a cockroach,
a poor picture among the improvised picnics.

Focused on you, your pixie, but not pixeled, face,
another photo showed your Mona Lisa smile,
but Liberty became the grayish granite wall
guarding the entrance into the American base.

Lying down to shoot upwards, as in my bed,
I saw you stand shoulder to shoulder with Liberty.
From that temporary place, I also captured me
and, looming over me, Liberty’s handsome head.

3. Daylilies

...I prefer to absorb whatever I see, take in the sights. It’s like if I talk, I’m afraid I will lose whatever I’m trying to keep in my heart.

There was a Chinese garden in the garden of
my memory: paper lanterns flying to the moon-
shaped entrance to an artificial, green lagoon
reflecting the pagodas and lotuses above.

Perhaps I fell in the lake after you said you cried
on seeing Hangchow’s bridges span its wide canals.
Perhaps a Chinese garden forms in all locales
where past and present, hurrying to meet, collide.

Perhaps. The fact sticks it to me that I was wrong.
Also mistook your hotel’s name, Pennsylvania,
for my Peninsula, my metropolismania
programmed to build a city where I may belong.

But you were staying in Penn’s Woods, and in the Bronx
we strolled through local forest the geography
teacher in you explained when asked—canopy,
understory and floor—, then glimpsed two quick chipmunks

scuttling into the shrubs. Cheeky reminder that
we weren’t home climbing Bukit Timah, leading the way
for students, playing parents for less than a day,
recognizing the will of the brown-nose or brat.

You paused, and read from a botanical park sign:
that tree, a pine-like species, was deciduous—
a fact that contradicted the world known to us
who thought that every conifer was evergreen.

We walked on, slightly changed, around the real estate
camouflaged by daylily and rose gardens. Dazed
by the noon sun to silence, we walked on, amazed,
before our bodies caught up with us at the gate.

4. Clear Wrap

Words cross-stitched on your card: Friends are the flowers in life’s garden.

I brought you a long-stemmed rose wrapped in cellophane,
bought from the Peas ‘N’ Pickles in my neighborhood.
It was a birthday gift. It also said: I would
love you always. You said it wilted on the plane.

5. Galapagos

Sorry if I have not made such a terrific “fag hag” (what a terrible name)…. Isn’t it possible to have a conversation with a gay man without talking about sex?

We shall not talk about sex. We shall not talk
about Jacques Torres hot chocolate on Water Street
or Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory in summer heat.
No more talk about sex. We shall talk about New York.

We shall not talk about sex. We shall not talk
about the bags and multiple pairs of shoes
you bought from Macy’s, or the round-the-island cruise
we never took but talked and talked about. In New York,

we shall not talk about sex. We shall not talk
about Darwin and natural selection though
we have observed the turtles of Galapagos.
We shall not talk about reptile sex in New York;

we shall not talk about sex. We shall not talk
about that Arab waiter we both eyed at Tutt
or the pale woman at the harpsichord my gut
yearned for so much I could not talk. This is New York

where, if we shan’t talk about sex, we shan’t talk
about the beautiful black man on the F train
ranting, I’ll kill ya, black bitch, to the windowpane
of everyone’s blank face. We shall talk about New York.

6. Natural History

I've come to change my mind about Americans. Am sitting in the American wing at the museum, so forgive me if the card is disjointed.

This is the dinosaur mummy, fossilized thing
of Mesozoic flesh, tendons, and tubercles
bumpy as birds’ feet. The cladogram labels
the features of Charles Sternberg’s find in Wyoming.

This diorama of the black mountain gorilla,
conceived by Carl Akeley who loved Mount Mikeno
and buried himself there, is backed by that volcano.
The tutsan tree, the pendant bedstraw, so real! Ah,

the Yakut Shaman! Slipping into a deep trance
to free this sleeping woman captured by demons.
A faithful record based on Waldemar Jochelson’s
description of a true tobacco-influenced dance.

Here’s the American wearing his bible belt
below protuberant waist, his nonflammable flag
flying above him. The precision of that price tag!
And see, this life-sized cast, his godhead, Roosevelt.

7. Actual Landing

Here’s one more for your album. Let me give you Queens,
the one borough you couldn’t see. A boulevard
of body shops and billboards, it’s an old graveyard
abandoned by the Irish and Italians it weans

from suckling at familiar pubs and tombstone tits.
Others have moved in, with their gods and groceries,
and make with mighty, minor, mad authorities
their various accommodations, their different debts.

In the day they control their bodies like consoles,
in houses, shops and factories filling their screens;
at night, the same computer game. Only the scene
has changed—the minefield, maze or motor-race the soul’s,

in which the aim, as in the day, is to arrive.
Their children, born American, will be their signs
of actual landing in the city, citizens
of Flushing, 56th Street or Forest Park Drive.

Their children’s children will inherit canopy,
understory and floor, and find the country real
because those children can remember nothing else
not in the museum of natural history.

Whole week I walked my new birthplace with you, my dear.
Since citizenship doesn’t follow coming-out,
but childlessness does, we understand our whereabouts
is recognizable but never familiar.

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