I go back to New York. I feel like I’m always going back to New York, I will always be in a state of going back to New York. The pasts of me all, back in New York.
I have shoulders now. This is a result of my flesh shrinking or going away and I can almost, now, see where the different areas of skin are over. Over muscles or bones there is difference in the skin. Areas curve and slope. Bones like collars when I shrug and shiver. In New York before I was always round and no-shaped, my cheeks still appley, this opaque flesh a protective shield. Now my shoulders slide against New York on the train, cool, and the short winds of Spring in the avenued canyons bristle my skin.
“New York” – just the slide of the phrase when spoken aloud is a poem, and I say it and write it as thought everyone knows what I mean.
In Williamsburg I am hurt by a friend early on a warm Friday night and I snake with the cool breeze through the new heights of Williamsburg, a place I never loved or knew, crying beneath my eyeglasses.
In midtown-ish Manhattan after a meeting with men younger and more powerful than I am I cough on Sixth Avenue in the wake of the traffic. There is always a moment on 6th Avenue when I imagine the view when they fell, the crumbling dust clouds running north to our lungs.
In the East Village I can see remains of my era but instead we choose a new place to eat. It’s next to an old place. There I drink wine I can’t afford, I bend and push, I pull against the bright wetness of my ex-lover’s eyes. Blue, the grey of his beard, darker heathery stretch of his t-shirt over all that has never lost its heat for me. How can I ever have lost this skin. 11 years. He is not single, we were never here together, but here we are. In New York.
In the Union Square subway we hug and kiss, on the mouth but not, and I rumple his close-cropped hair like a cat’s. We do it again, I run for trains and cry a little bit on them, regretting. Doing the right thing, but regretting. He is not the first ex-boyfriend to sorta kiss me goodbye in the Union Square subway station, to leave me wanting to have done more, said something, but it’s been fifteen years since the last one and it takes me by surprise every time. In New York one should never do the right things but I still do. I’m not from there.
On the Upper East Side I sleep in the office of a playwright. It’s here I feel most at home in New York, like this is a place I can place. I’ve never even been to this kind of Upper East Side before but I know its body better than any lost boy/man’s. Tall avenues, unchanged architects of identity.
I lane my way through Central Park in showers of cherry blossoms with a quiet poet from another of my pasts. Brooklyn in our runes. My poet friend is quiet spoken, but she is violently concerned about the state of writing. What happens when nothing is created because it has to be, she spits softly, when the market is the only inspiration, the proposal the actual instigating point. Under the bridge by the boat house, the echoes of a chorale of hundreds draws us. When we approach it’s only four people, two of them yawning deeply between bars, the violin soloist sleepylike a baby boy in his tiled arena. Tourists want photos, of course. It’s New York.
In Café Luxembourg we eat bacon and whisper, wear dirty sneakers, see celebrities.
At the borders of the Lower East Side, I hesitated to go back to my old street. I did, but I felt it too much. Not enough. The neighborhood was quiet though it never is, an overcast Monday afternoon. There was a feeling of soullessness. In the rain: the block, broken. Not by the new chic demeanor of the changes of a few years ago – now it’s this newer un-soul of tired eras, commercial ventures, layer of artifice and advantage flipped and cycled through like tractor treads or reels of film before they catch fire. The entire block across from my apartment building is gone. Literal gone. Scaffold and sadness instead.
Everyone feels special and first, in New York. Everyone’s era was something, there. But it’s all true. We were.
The next day when I return home to San Francisco the man I have recently left tells me everything I wanted to hear, late.
I walk on Market Street in the new regularity of record 90-degree heat with my shoulder beneath a cardigan sweater to avoid burnt skin. I hide my headphones beneath my sleeve so no one grabs them, or me. I try out crying on Market Street as I walk, the non-native weather forcing my coastside place open and dirty. I flinch at the sounds of my neighbors when I am home, my windows too wide. We are not built for summer. I am still not built for cities, for twenty years now. I can’t sleep in heat and my eyes start to burn after a day of writing, back to work.
After dark, bugs bite my shoulders like they did in Long Island City, on James’s tiny fire escape, in July, the soft percussion of the neighbor’s beer bottles from below louder than the rumble of the subway above us in the thick blue night sky.