the rivers of it, abridged

New York City skyline at night




Elaine Sexton


When I talk too much or too loud, when I
boast or imagine I'm higher on the ladder
than I am, a splinter finds lodging
in my foot. And my stomach knots,
and knocks. All show, all talk.
My stomach speaks perfect English.
His bark is worse than his bite —
this adage comes back from childhood,
along with a discovery, years
later in San Francisco, that a barker
is an actual profession. In my home-
town, women sold themselves
in whispers at the boatyards at night.
At eighteen, decades too late to
join the Beats, I crossed the country
to find poetry in Ferlinghetti's
City Lights. Across the street
in North Beach, a stranger shouted
selling Carol Doda, Topless!
& a side-show of women he wanted me
to see. Another block, another barker,
& another & another, sex show signs
with giant breasts lit up in neon.
Pairs of nipples, red bulbs flashed
on books behind glass, sexsellers
and booksellers on the sticky
sloping side streets. I was thinking
what hounds men can be,
as harsh and as smooth
as that first stiff drink, shot of whiskey,
after hours, underage, the swivel
of torn leather seats, the whoosh
of something I was certain
to like but didn't. Like growing up.


As They De-ice the Wings



















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