Arms

Richard Tayson

 
Iím late for the birth-
day party, itís one
of those cool after-
noons when the world
is clear, is made
of glass, the sky
so blue you want to
look up at the very
center of its pupil
in case you get
a glimpse of what
comes after
we leave here.  Iím
thinking my loverís
sister is thirty-two
today, but I want
to let time stand
still, let the tourists
go on waving their
America the Beautiful
flags across 49th
Street, let the three
ladies whose hair
is the color of smoke
rising and ghosts
taking leave of their
senses go on laughing,
near the fountain, may
we all not have
a care in the world.  But
itís August 23rd,  I must
get on the train, yet
a tree keeps holding
my attention, its leaves
luscious from the summer
rain, thereís a canopy
beneath which the Pakistani
man I talked to last
week sells his salty
sauerkraut, lifting
the lid and letting out
steam each time he
serves it over hot
dogs, and the man
pays him then turns
toward me, his thick
muscled arm tan
in the sun, the tattoo:
BORN
FOR
WAR.  The day
is gone, the people
around me gone, I am
trying not to forget
that Iím a pacifist,
trying not to pay
attention to his name-
brand shorts and sun
glasses that wonít
let you see a glint
of eye behind them,
Iím trying not to watch
him eat the hot dog in two
bites and nudge the woman
beside him who pushes
a stroller, his arm around
her waist as he pivots and
sees me staring.  Yes he might
leap to the right, grab
my throat punch
me shoot me gut
me clean as a fish
taken from the black glass
of the cityís river street, but
the church bells are tolling,
people are saying
their prayers three blocks
from here in the hushed
dark.  So I take a deep
breath and am no longer
here, I havenít been
born yet, there is no state
of California, no Gold
Rush or steam
engine, electricity hasnít
been invented, people
cross open spaces
on horses, no Middle
Passage, and I watch
the Huns kill the Visigoths
who slice the throats
of every living
Etruscan, a crowning
city is razed, the virgins
raped, one nation
fights for land
to walk on, then are
walked on until
someone carves on a cave
wall, then someone
writes on papyrus,
until we do it all
again, right up to
concentration camps, rivers
flowing with nuclear
waste.  49th Street
floods back, and the man
with the tattoo turns
away, as if heís decided
not to crack my skull
open and drink me
today, the 965th day
of the new century.  War
goes into fifth month.  The church
bells stop and the ladies
get up and walk
toward Radio City
and while I donít believe
in an eye for an eye, I have
a flash lasting no longer
than it takes for a nuclear
blast to render this city
invisible, shadow
of a human arm Iíve torn
from its socket, its left
hand gripping the air.
 
Copyright © Richard Tayson. Used with permission of the author.

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