Melting Pot

Tired headlights cut through the midnight snow
Down, down past where Manhattan’s concrete canyons
have washed out into SoHo’s tired streetsWe stand back from the edge,
clear of salt spray slush
thrown up by maverick herds of huddled cabs
and implacably long, black limousines
looking for this restaurant or that, the next fare, or
at the end of it all,
just the easiest way homeIt takes a few breaths,
but I brave the curb, arm outstretched,
and a slush-soaked Medallion,
glistening pale in the sodium lamplight
lumbers to our call

It’s a common dance – that second half
of the oft-imagined “Chinese fire drill”:
Scrambling around both sides,
hopscotch puddles
A mob of four, amid folding umbrellas
and stepped-upon insistences of “No, you first”

I hold back just a moment enough
– inevitably, ringleader gets the front seat –
and window-watch as hands, still disembodied
slide a packet of mail, and yesterday’s who-knows-what
from what is now My Place

The door, a crossing step, shift, slide, and I’m in,
doorclosing and seatbelt-searching as I steel myself
for the next part of the dance

Ready?

Now.

Casually, oh so casually

to look up into the warm round face

 of glistening java shaved smooth
that watches me with questioning eyes
And waits for my word

Another breath.

“Paramount Hotel, please”
My words come out casually, offhand,

Like something that wouldn’t need
the silent practice I’ve put into itA furrowed brow and pursed lips – doubt?
Crap. Line, please? I try again:
“Uh, 46th – between 7th and 8th” (I think)But it’s enough: the brow melts to a smile
and we lurch away from the curb
Underway, through cartwheeling points of light
dazzled by sentry streetlamps,
Underway, into the badlands of the north

And now?

Backseat chatter fades to static of big town small talk

As I face the silent wager that any two strangers

 seated together must faceA silent count of ten, or so, then I reach

But he draws first,
in a tumbled apology: English – such a tricky language,
and so much to learn in only four years

But before – where?

A deep sigh, drinking in memory,
And the words come, rolling like a slow song

Sung from the cradle’s memory and savored
like sweet milk

Africa. Yes, of course, but?

Guinea.

Guinea?

And now the sadness flows too

Of Before, and Then, and her and them
and who we all were
before the undeniable Now
found us riding through these frozen streets

I search my pockets and find nothing
but borrowed tales to give in return,

 stories not my own to lend for the ride
To bank the heat of his words against the snow
Of his life – a memory of delicate gold,
spun fine and spangled with diamond light
Now flung to these shoresWelcomed (more than most!) and cast in (not out)
In, into the heat
Of a melting pot
that defied the winter of these canyons

and held us all close

No, more than that: a crucible
To warm us, but to bind us, to crush us together,
Tighter than we can breathe
Until all that fine filigree shimmers and wilts
Drawn in, to a drop of liquid gold
that no more knows where it came from
than the heavens know our name

Gold, and silver, and everything else that we are
and were
His tales and mine, or those of my parents
Forged into a river of heat and light
swirling together,
Until the the blue sky and lush green have burnt away,
And all that is left pours out,
Cooling to a muddied stream
of that-was-a-long-time-ago, and ask-your-father memories

Coursing, once again down these concrete canyons
Under a midnight snow.

 

(Feb 2008, as of 2008-05-21 still somewhat in progress)

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