the rivers of it, abridged

New York City skyline at night


Fall 2008



Gerry LaFemina

While Listening to Burning Spear, I Remember Sherry and her Father

He hung the machete in a place of honor
above the sofa; it was the tool, he told me,
that he had used in Jamaica to cut back brush—

his first job; his first earned dollars.

Each month he took it down, forbidding
tarnish, so he polished the blade like I believed
some warrior might do in the novels I read then.

It was a metaphor
for language, he said; something I already knew,
for I, too, had heard words cleave the space between Sherry and me
when we walked, hips rubbed together, into certain places

even in that city.
He never threatened me with it,

never suggested I not break his daughter's heart,
which I did not do

although when we split up I'm sure she wept
— just as I wept—
like an immigrant in a world that suddenly seemed

larger & smaller both.

He had wrapped the machete in newspaper & tape
& packed it in a suitcase
when he flew from Kingston to JFK.

For weeks afterward in a small Lower East Side flat
I imagine, he read those news stories
again & again. The Beatles or Jimi Hendrix on the alien radio.

He must've thought of the woman he'd left behind,
the way, today, I think of his daughter, how her heavy dreadlocks swung so lightly,
when we'd dance nights at the Reggae Lounge,

his daughter not yet old enough
to talk, that August morning when he left.

He studied law those long days, & sometimes used that blade

to slice open a fresh mango or papaya bought on the street:
just a sweet, too-brief taste of the old world.


Storm Front, Moving East

By the street behind the house, rain fingers the keyboard of an upright piano
one of my neighbors pulled to the curb; so many keystrokes

& still no sound, the way no sound emanated last night

when I drove past just as a young boy stood before it,
his hands arced, fingers running imaginary laps along all 88 keys,

each gesture hyperbolized, cartoonish
as if he were playing some too-much-Bugs-Bunny blues,
some my-parents-never-let-me-play-

this blues: all of it mute
as the deepening grey clouds that loomed then
arrived from out west & stayed.

I pull the shade, allow it to snap upward, & look out
past the back yard to that road stretching through the closed neighborhoods,
trash bags piled before each home.

Sometimes a box or broken appliance

& local cats that scratch through plastic
to drag chicken carcasses onto the sidewalks. Beyond all this

the fall's full moon sneaking through
so I feel the giddy possibility of a moonbow, which doesn't happen,

though they do occur, according to Aristotle.
It was Aristotle, too, who believed children
ought to be taught music— such bird-like leisure—

but who hasn't needed a song within himself when solitude surprises,
a song one might even whistle at such times.

Not this October morning though,
which is briefly jarred by a diesel garbage truck turning

followed by the whine of air brakes &
growl of hydraulics crushing waste. I expect soon

to hear cracking mahogany & the metallic grind of cables
right before they snap.
Rather, from beneath the truck's fumey rumble

bass notes
& then a moment of jump blues, the driver jamming a little Jelly Roll—
the melody out of tune, warped, wavering, some notes
completely absent
as those hammers strike nothing, but still

it comes darting from the sidewalk, each note like a bottle rocket.

Then the truck's beeping back-up alarm just before it drives off.

Gliding & spiraling
the earliest sparrows rise toward the waning
lunar light beyond this bank of nimbostratus,
which already hefts its load toward Baltimore & D.C.



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