By: Vijay Balakrishnan
April 10, 2020

Day 4: New York City


Esthetique du Banal (1989)

I. Train

The train car crowds a forest of legs,
Each stalk rooted a proud display of shoes.
Tell me something of origins,
Or what you might imagine the end might be.

Is it a parade with streamers, balloons?
A face seen once I’ll never again see
Asks what’s left to love in these ruins.
My answer, though mute, is understood:

A fast glance, a knitted brow, another question.
Side by side two trains race; for a time I fix
Another face. So much safer (we sit
In different rooms), stare fixedly

Without fear of speaking—faith in tracks laid
That never meet. Doors slide open at
The next station. It is time for a new
Infusion of flesh. And though faces in

Some economy’s grace might elevate
Themselves to petalled transcendence, these
Bodies, just arms and legs sway, bump to tell
The story of the train’s persistence.

II. Street

In a sense it is the opposite
Of that classic dream in which
Your feet are glued to the asphalt
As the jump-cut truck looms
Closer by the second. Guilty
About vision’s privilege
You move, since standing still
Is now a problem for science.
Verticals and horizontals,
If perfect, meet to form an angle
Of ninety degrees releasing
The spaces around them. So, the walk,
If it is to remain human begins
And ends arbitrarily, a certain ease
Achieved rushing between two points.

III. Bar

Steel ball easily captures
This world on its surface, its silver
Reflects what is, essentially,
A play of appearances. Shot
For a brief life between bumpers,
It rolls down the table angled
To kill it, falling, a consummation
Where your mind is. You feel compelled
To explain to her why the boys
Crowd in here in wintertime
To watch the screen hypnotized by
The frictionless ease of their champions,
Why you drink more so looking changes
From inertial to fascination
To inertia again. Chin slipping
From your palm, you have to admit
The presumption: your meditations,
So lofty, could only be borne
By the loftiest of pursuits
(The plotting of strategies
To contain within life its own
Double). Get up and fall.
Now get up again. It’s time to put
One foot in front of—the car.

IV. Store

What horror, frozen peas again
Prove to be peas. The land of milk
And honey flanks every aisle
Of easy shopping. The magazine
Stand, a store and not a store,
Is manned by an old Indian
Of the betel-nut variety
Unpacking the porn shipment
For the month, his eyes alarmingly
Unengaged as he separates them:
Glossy, glossier, glossiest.
The Chinese have become stiff
Competition underselling Saks
On their bamboo flutes. Travelling
Chess games don’t have checker-
Boards or pieces: their hats so
Cheap because they’re made for
Everyone at once. Downtown
Young men selling outsized
Hundred dollar bills for a dollar
Have taken to jumbo dollar bills
Instead. Outraged, for proportion’s
Sake I say, I’ll give you a penny,
They walk away. So many colors
Shapes and sizes of things to buy
And even of vendors. I wonder
Is this all hallucination? Who knows
What’s being bought and sold
And for how much on the corner.

V. Beach

The wave itself projects to the sky.
The crest, its apex, still reaching
For a point further. Separate
It builds a single thing, its body,
Fills to capacity for only a second, then
Breaks into (what else) parts, breaks into
A thousand fingers, crabs racing furiously
Towards (who else) me, hands and feet clawed
Firmly in the sand, waiting for the sea-water
Rush, listening of course for the roar.
But above that, above the crashing,
Above the salt hiss, I hear faintly
A voice. Memory effortlessly gliding
As if the sea were merely surface.

VI. T.V. (a sonnet)

Lilco keeps its doors open, the governor
Somehow convincing as the situation
Became desperate. The war seems over,
Players all stoking some new passion.
Messages, mysteriously, turn dumber
And smarter at the same time. The design
(Too obvious to be true) is where number
Substitutes for quality, the fine lines
Of the screen becoming disturbing when
You notice, separately, the bright bands
Cease to convey anything. Why is the pen
So often taken for the absent hand
Though being watched keeps us all to a place,
Watching the serial killer face to face?

VII. Park

These winter leaves unfold just once a year.
If you stop paying attention, I’m told, even
For a few minutes, you miss it. Witnesses
Have commented on the pathos of the drama,
How the leaf tells its tale, a protracted
Swansong of crumbling making every step
Of this stroll creak, inevitably, the same
Question: how is anyone supposed to get things
Done anymore? Light streams distractingly
From windows. People move too erratically.
The sky itself is disintegrating. Yes, it is
Still winter, but the leaves have decided
To converse only with the snow and it too
Has started melting. Soon, you remember,
Turning the corner, it will be time to elect
Someone new; the mechanism, though rusty,
Is still running smoothly, easily making
All revolutions into cycles. Grey clouds
Squat heavily on leafless branches and your
Mind shoots into spring where, occasionally,
Light catches on a wet leaf turning. The quick
Flash like a light-bulb fused confuses
To your endless delight—woods and city.

VIII. Restaurant

Coffee, the most basic food, was invented
Long before Voltaire in the tropics
Of another age distant, but not by time.
A nut holding the sun’s speed,
A light released in the body
Quickens the elastic day in parts.
Clouds fill the sky but the light
In here is fine, reflects in my cup
First a square, then a series of bands.
And I am staring into this black, lost
In its ripples, its momentary stillness
Watching the cream swirl as the stars
Swirl (outside) finally convinced
She must be right: only one relation
Truly obtains between two persons:
Serving and being served.

IX. Room

It takes exactly fifteen
Seconds to walk from one wall
To the one facing it. Space
Obediently functions as time.
Pacing, she is aware of the frenzy;
The pigeon-feed flutters too loud
To ignore call her to sit awhile
Watch the crisscross
On the safety bars and feel
Sad for all living things since
They are, inevitably, trapped
In a form not of their choosing.
Looking for comfort she opens
A can of soup, watching the steam
Rise she recalls an old friend’s
Trick: standing in the doorway,
Wrists against the jamb, she pushes
Out, stepping to feel a force
Buoying her arms up, pointing
Them at angles to the ceiling.

X. Taxi

Always going back, the bridge
After all only connects two
Places; the colonnade the arches
Announce the resigned shuttling
Home. Translate movement
Into succession, tick away
At the scenery unfurling.

Forever why do I find myself
Returning to you though I know
You are not in one place?
I have speed, that’s true,
And sometimes even manage
Frenzy (safe distance and glass
Between me and the streets).