The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®

 

Laurel Kaye

Lullaby on West 133rd

 

The plane collides and you arrive
to murmurs of hyphenated welcome
in the halls of terminal 4
There was no room for you in Eden
so you found a place in Harlem
under the soporific gaze
of vagabonds and neon promises
scabrous paint on whitewashed walls
mapping ragged lunar mountains

The stairs bewail your ascent
to the streets that are not yet yours
They belong to the laundryman who
smokes his teeth yellow and lungs black
as the cylinders fill with water
and digest their cotton bowels
He calls your dress absurd
that costume is for queens and whores
but you know it is not the clothes

The streets belong instead
to the grey man who guards the drain
below Help Wanted in the window
of the Persian restaurant
He notices you staring
he says stare less
he says, we all want help
it takes a restaurant to ask

The stairs bewail your descent
their crepitate complaints
recall the glass hung in strings
outside your father’s door
chattering in the absent breeze
and shattered rainbows of summer
How tall you felt upon his shoulders
you feel now in your shoulders
an exquisite aching to unwind
to unlade a box in this location
and call it home

The nights exhale in Harlem
with wailing sirens, lustful brawls
punctuated with a soggy prayer
that freezes into crust that clings to windows
you add it to the many ways in which
it is colder here
The grey man wears three hats
he says, keep your eye on the prize
but knows nothing of the price
that paid your ticket here

Of course you don’t tell him
you have not felt tall or prized
since the summer of diverted dreams
narcotized saints and shackled angels
a casket cleaved open like an oyster
and shoulders weak and wasted
The day happiness waxed theoretical
when cracks in your logic splintered
faith fled for more pacific seas
and the stairs grew steep and savage

In Harlem you count the unseen stars
whose names you do not know
nestled like bugs in velvet oblivion
But where glass hangs on strings
and the matron flies copulate
furiously at night, and die by morning
you knew the stars, their stories
you tell the grey man so
He says Sister
it is one thing just to know
and another to be known

 

 

 

LAUREL KAYE is a first year medical student who dedicates an uncanny amount of time to writing. A writer of poetry and short stories, Laurel is a recipient of the Anne Flexner Memorial Award for Creative Writing in 2015. The American Journal of Poetry is pleased to present Ms. Kaye's first publication of poetry.

 

 

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