Give me another piece of paper.
Give me a role in the cheapest sci-fi movie ever.
Give me an eraser, to wipe my
name off the white board, and an icepick,
to scratch the last-ever vinyl
of my dreams so badly no one can play it again.
Give me a roomful of people on fire with fear of what the ocean wants of them.
Give me a radio made of city lights, build me
a barricade around the world’s last silent forest.
Build me a fragrant paper house, and crumple it.
And now! The beautiful phone calls bloom.
Give me a popsicle.
I’ll eat the stick.
Returning Again to New York
—for Steve Goldman
I. Unplanned Light
The married semi-bastard didn’t run the movie
It was no bargain, this non-biblical donkey dream
A cloaked target became convicted of a great charade
The spirit of the corner had ornate gingerbread parents
A teenaged dread
I mumbled in my New York body cast
Waiting for the midnight daughter to play her loving cup
We had an old communist Beethoven harmonica teacher
Her dry winter window was a drum-skin where I belonged
Before I had the lawyer, she shouted, I was considered
Powerless with gold animal appendages
I was prone to soliloquy and masked theory of law
And I replied, Don’t laugh! The power of madness can’t fence!
At school I receive a mandarin-red earthquake and
One small mother with a kind Zen wand at last blossoming
In little silver convulsions twice per day three times a week
I stammer in front of my pejorative Republican mother
The lesson’s at the wheel and I have no self now
I am in a movie, looking free and dizzying and occult
But now a promise of groggy rescue dies in three days
And she walks out in England listening to ashes in my mouth
One night a papery whisper says The original kid never failed
The distance is our kiss on the lips over New York
Our family shield escapes the fetish of Brooklyn continually
Their mouths spray iron dust onto a little boy’s clip-on tie
After the war, a white horse resists, gets up, and it’s over.
II. The Child at the Door
Squeezing out rubber tomahawks, I was the timid diplomat who refused to believe anything made of brick. The summer my radio would break and die, the dreaded “smart kid” years started, and my therapy towered above me, as bullies always have. I swore to myself right then that I would always remember the poor kid’s small army, the impostor on the racehorse, and the explosive Jewish Jesus.
The moon poked its snout into the direction I was going. Across my waist, a cigar let me know a “growth industry” was a wound. Had it not been for my mother’s marriage, one standing pane of light could be seen in the whole village — proper, red-headed, lonely, ceramic. But she’d been divorced, so I’d slam conspiratorial drinks and we’d talk about archetypes of the sentimental.
My uncle had gritty male favorites a block away from us, and his wife Aunt Lilly had a Brooklyn garbage can lid. I began to find a place among cops. One cap gave me Mark Twain, some Chinese jade, a book of Turner seascapes, and best of all, a box — real feathers, gleaming brass, enameled and silly, but vastly expensive and gallantly bohemian. His century was marginalized with blue suits and a veil of flabbergasted macho that never understood why it became such a sacred moment in my lifetime.
III. The Crack on the Left
Today I remember my mother’s little Brooklyn bodega.
I was a heedless, shouting baritone, and
toys with college degrees glared at me with
silent, distant menace as soon as I exited
a room. I remember my pajamas standing apart from me.
It was the 60s, and miniaturized cowboy guns
cost only $75. But six years later, I was born, and
Heraclitus bombed the universe inside the family.
The market fails, the headline surrenders. Don’t get me wrong:
our rear kitchen window knew nothing. I cannot speak
here of the white plaster president, the balsa wood rifle,
the fifteen cents that have changed hands, the electric scooter
that was respectful to my parents. In my mythic dream time,
I knew all this, developed a ritual, but didn’t have enough prisoners.
Therefore, mom, you’re working for me, a lyric alone
in a small room, unmarked, plainly visible. I’m home for two days.
My deepest voice has opened like a sunburst. I did what I could,
and asked why our cosmic iconography remained faceless,
unable to move or cry out. Not so far away, other children exist
only as symbols on my face. My father strides over to my bed,
a searchlight, because of who I am. I repeat my black magic
because sanity is a damaged wind-up toy,
and every bakery has its own philosophy of language.
JAMES CUSHING holds a doctorate in English from UC Irvine and has taught literature and creative writing since 1989 at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, where he also served as Poet Laureate in 2008-2010. Books include Pinocchio’s Revolution and The Magicians’ Union, both from Cahuenga Press, which plans to publish a new collection, Solace, in 2018. In writing “Returning Again to New York,” Cushing employed Steve Goldman’s autobiography, The Unplanned Child and the Light through the Crack of the Door Left Slightly Ajar (Los Angeles: Edgar & Lenore’s, 2018), as source material.