New York City skyline at night


Spring 2009




Angelo Verga



What a strong angel I seek, my darling
And what a strong angel you are

And she says if you do it to me
I'll like it, whatever it is,
I won't take it as a reprimand I'll enjoy it
Don't hurt me more than you must
To compel submission, I need to obey
I yearn for no choice but to be yours


Faces erased of all emotion
Faces devoid of fervor or intent
Faces that convey that the wearer
Of the mask is dead, neglecting
Only to face down fall as of yet
Faces of the empire, the empire
In decay, the vampire slaves
Mug shots of the damned

Predawn: drone of wings in dark
Lights, mist, fog: one lone light
Inside a cloud, helicopter? scout?
In the harbor, a gray
Battleship's guns pointed in
At the park, army tents break green
Of trees with green of camouflage
And the globe from the towers
Punched hard is spotlighted
With a million watt bulb
Police sirens scream dawn
Smoke rises from manhole covers
Search beams on rooftops, fire
Boats on both rivers, east west
North south, the bees, the drones
The bees who make the city thrive
The bees, the bees are about
To arrive, returning to the hive


A rooster's song lasts longer than his wings
That is why we write poems, suffer babies,
Seek immortality, to go beyond the body,
Time, geography, tribe, to join the universe
As it sings through its twists and turns
Out, out, into the far-flung whirlwind

No new era, not now, not yet, only the dawn
Moans come during the night; joy arrives with daylight
Isn't that right? My darling, my lovely one
But here only the reflection of dawn arrives,
Hence a pale joy, a skeletal sunrise
Restrained by the sky, my sweetheart

Give me your hand, Sorrow, and come with me
Walk inside my shoes, my sneakers, sandals, boots

Since ignorance is increasingly on the rise
Folly and error, pettiness and vice thrive
The wind and clouds torture the towers
Their thousand eyes closed in anguish of acquiescence
A small thing, as small perhaps
As the breaking of a dry leaf between thumb and finger
The tweaking of a ripe nipple of flesh
A small crime, a small annihilation
Complete and inclusive, though swift

Spectral Pol Pot is felt
Fleeing into the strangled jungle
On a Chinese bicycle without food.
We trade VCR's for rubber,
Young rice, and girls.

600 American Hellfire jets
Spearhead an aerial assault.

A woman escorts an old man through the streets
It is the time, just after dawn, when nothing is fully alive
Their feet accept their fate, trapped in shoes
Their toes are not screaming
However much they should be
Their shoes are mute accomplices in the misdeed


Another disguised angel
In a hurricane of black pigeons
Doves, doves came from Italy, didn't they?
Skinny legs naked and glimpsed between coat flaps
Oversized galoshes, her long stride
Purposeful in its awkwardness
Sweet as a carrot with dimples
No hero awaits her, only the subway to wrestle
Against, her breasts aching
To be pulled and suckled
This is what innumerable women have come to

Domesticated cattle presented for sacrifice

A dancer paid to dance, hanging upright at her pole
Held off the floor by her hair tied around her neck
This is what untold women have come to

The water's bent dance on the shoreline
The water's bent dance along the shore
The water's splash on the guardrails
The last souls of ash swirl into the cove
Who will repaint the yachts in their basin?
Who will count the ocean liners' comings and goings

The city wakens to another day's toil
A city whose work is never finished
The city so nice they named it twice
A city whose bridges rhyme with river
The dream of all the financiers in the world
The angels come to flog the whirling sun
Drop from the sky like a ransack of hawks
If the boom lasted 27 years, how long
Will the bust be prolonged? What
Will a gallon of milk cost
When your grandson is married?

Seraphim, the elite angels,
Guardian squadron of god's throne
Red, deep crimson as a firestorm
Ranks of winged chariots
And the deafening hum of Glory, Glory
Glory to Yahweh, to the Father, to Allah
Cherubs, newborn angels, beat their little wings
Under the battle shields of seraph twins

Metallic whine, swift interlocking gears
Paradigm shifts within the angelic battalions
Three sets of rotors govern height depth and pitch

Red seen from far away, the red
Of fire in the night mountains
Before the storm hits, red, dead red,
The red lining of a German pope's Versace cloak

Shock and awe assails those who are cast out
Clout, rage, wallop, smack

Firefights around the throne of god
Repel the insurgency by way of hurricane
The commander of the seraphim shouts his battalions
Red in formation from dawn to dusk
Legions of die-hards and dead-enders captured
Out in the desert, the palm and fig trees
Burning like Hanukkah candles, like incense
And the children touching their foreheads
In a sign language of revolt

The angels sweep in off the bay,
Hidden by gale,
Launching laser lightning bolts
Against the stone city, barricades
And trees burning, rivers burning
Cyclone, storm, tornado
Forever and ever
May they boil in divine wrath
As it is now and ever shall be, red
Shifts toward the infinite
With the rapidity and rapacity
Of god's implacable hand


Granite cliffs, notched back
In morning filtered light.
Below in coarse haze
Swirl the office workers
In their ephemeral uniqueness.
This one in tan sneakers,
This one in beige boots,
This one in a suit of unruffled gray.

I sit on a bench facing the squashed globe
The one they hauled into the park seven year ago
The one with the supposed eternal flame before it

The globe is battered and dented and cut and twisted
And the rain rust has begun to take its toll,
And as the sun strikes the serrated impact crater
A rainbow jumps and shimmers into my bones

And I sit here with a bag of fresh corn
And some bulbs of heirloom garlic
And a hot pepper plant, all in plastic
Bags, all acquired at the farmers' market
The one wherein Meredith of Kingston sells
Her breads, in front of the Customs House,
The one that Melville clerked in long, long ago


If only my son had been a bear
If only my daughter had been a lion, if she had been a gazelle
Perhaps subsequent generations will become as human as birds
If only we become better parents

Even the tiny feastings of a spider are enough
To disrupt the equilibrium of the sky
To defeat the balance of the horizon
The nibbling of a sole spider is an ample amount
The scripture sings, "Everything counts in large amounts"
Decimal places accumulate to the right
Trends evolve; the moving average is a rising skyward blue line

Lizards from the moon will come to bite men who cannot sleep or dream
In addition, those who are fearful of death will bear it strapped to their shoulders
Like a back bone that is humped and must be borne forever
An ashen black woman in a one-piece bathing suit
(This is February, bro) is wearing torn pantyhose,
And she's panhandling, panhandling like a goddamn motherfucker.
She's fucking over that skinny white kid
Lying on the ground beside her
He can't even dance good enough to chew his lip.

Granite cliffs, notched back
In morning filtered light.
Below in coarse haze
Swirl the office workers
In their ephemeral uniqueness.
This one in tan sneakers,
This one in beige boots,
This one in a suit of dispassionate gray.

Tens of thousands, crowds
Gathered from every province
Of empire, Washington
Heights, Uzbekistan, Monrovia,
Marching a slow death march
With brown paper bags in their hands.



The woman who carries sacks sits
On the train in the dark with a cane
Between her legs, gathering strength
Her unfolded ear almost touching
Her shoulder in a shadow of honest sleep

Ashamed of life, shriveled in sleep
They creep, debris bent double
No one greets them, human rubble
On whom god's iron heel presses

Where the rains bring mud
Soon follow hunger and disease
The crowds fighting for sacks of rice
The women grabbing only to be left empty-handed


My sorrows and regrets bleed all afternoon
But in the mornings I sing
Moreover, at night I drink and dance
When do I sleep with you? You ask,
My love, my darling, my pressed forgetfulness

Like other divine madmen I work
In the morning, think in the afternoon,
Eat in the evening and sleep at night,
Only now I no longer sleep, I wrestle
With you, my angel, my sister of dark
And light, my divided soul in the new moon's demise

Like other lunatics both clerical and secular, I rant

The bricks are the red of blood
The firescapes have fallen
The windows are portholes
Into the blackest abyss
Even the jailors and accountants cannot imagine worse
The elevated trains sing arias
Bombs appear, yelling they beseech
Look at me! Look at me!
The tunnels raise their tales up
In the backyard jungles
They love to be seen
They connive to be caught and held


No new age, no enlightenment
Only a blue homeland, and dawn,
A dawn that reflects onto the continent
And all its empty hectares and kilometers
Its ethanol waves of grain, its purple
Mountain majesty above the flood plain

The monotone of marble, steel, and stone
Brutal the twelve strokes of noon
As a gray sky presses upon their heads
The tedium of detention

The blank women will not save us
The iodine of pain on stitched flesh
Won't save us, the deserted streets
Going down to the harbor will not protect us
We have to escape but we can't
The people in shoe stores will not save us
Your big house near the inlet will not
Convey us away from anguish, only a small
Cradle in the empty room can save anyone

Children of the future, remember to pray for us
In madness, silence, and despair
Because the future can change the past
There is an option of hope
A stimulus package, a tax amnesty plan

The trusted stone rubbed smooth
And though it is black, it has not,
As of yet, been completely mislaid

I denounce you
I denounce you and the horses you rode in on
The horses cantering in the rain
I spit in each of your untruthful faces
The entire cemetery begins to complain
Why do you not place stones on our graves?
Why do you not place stones on our mass graves?
If the dead could speak, they would speak in couplets, not quatrains
They are good at reverberation, stuck in a groove, shun narrative

In the Bronx 3 boys circle a dog
They pull on metal pipes and gag on street corners
Finally, finally they arrive in the desert night
In the Bronx, three boys circle a three-legged dog

The girl with very long legs and short shorts
Is the goddess/guide of the double-decked bus
The gaggle of straight-backed Japanese office men
And their fashionable wives and giggling daughters
Follow her held-high red umbrella wherever she leads
Where, I wonder, are all their invincible rising sons?


The dead repeat themselves in couplets, not quatrains
Nor stanzas, they distrust narratives
Narratives reinforce comfort, relieve stress
The stress we need to feel, hold close to the vest

Salt mist in the street, a trembling river
Of pear-shaped moths under your eyelids
You are yourself for the first time since you left your mother's grave
Do you remember the poem you wrote for your father?
The one in which you offhanded proclaimed you both were sane

You're not exactly proud, confident of yourself, are you?
Standing in City Hall Park, surrounded
By pigeons and paratroopers, preoccupied
With baseline everyday bullshit, figuring
Out how to reduce your tax bite, the best
Way to segregate dark socks from light
How to meet women with perky nipples
And, it happens, it happens again, papers
Fall from the sky, as they do again and again
For almost seven years now, papers
Papers flutter from the sky, and the roar
The roar of the almost sonic boom
The smoke and roar of electrons
Hurled through a door that swings closed
With a universal thud, the angels saying
This one lives and this one dies, this one
Will never make it to the elevator
The ticker tape parade papers stick
Like butterflies in the rain
You reach for the one that lands

On your mercury and asbestos laden shoes
Like blood, like the orders you obey
Radiating from the local military governor's hand


Granite cliffs, notched back
In morning filtered light.
Below in coarse haze
Swirl the office workers
In their ephemeral uniqueness.
This one in tan sneakers,
This one in beige boots,
This one in a suit of dispassionate gray.

Tens of thousands, crowds
Gathered from every province
Of empire, Washington
Heights, Uzbekistan, Monrovia,
Marching a slow death march
With brown paper bags in their hands,
On their way to shuffle papers,
Make phone calls, cubicles
In every shade of beige,
Phone calls, pointless papers.

It's Monday, Monday in a year
Without spring, and again
The suicide bombers are said
To be close at hand. Within
The perimeter, within us, the stink
Of fear, familiar, routine as
Layoffs, missed vacation,
An independent contract.

Tens of thousands gathered
From every outpost of the empire
Washington Heights, Uzbekistan,
Punjab, Venezuela, marching
With stained paper bags in clean hands
To shuffle papers, make phone calls,
Cubicles in every shade of beige
Phone calls, scrambled papers
In every shade of tan.

This one in sneakers
This one in boots
This one in tattered sandals
This one two days in the grave
And looking very bad
Each riding the wheel
That turns inside the maze.

The reason they make so many movies here?
Because everyone is extra.


A kiss so soft beneath the seawater rouses me
You have me under your command; I can no longer refuse
To accept love, kiss me until my lips turn to silver & green
And we breathe together, or not at all

I long to sleep near your body glowing in the night
My sister, how sweet everything would seem
If only you were with me
We could make a third river with our mingled grief

The streets tremble like little girls
Because the poor demand bread
And a roof over their heads
And decent clothing, and good music, and frequent gatherings, bands
And they would like to hear the truth spoken in a muscular voice now and then
The earth must be everyone's or no one's


Time sleeps in the trees, and intermittently
Naked bodies breathe in rapture
The rich of all the Americas will drown
In their machines, in lamentation
Howls of grief and the yanking out of coiffed hair


Dear reader,

History flows in both directions
I convey myself as best I can in this head-on train crash
With the tools I have at hand
The light in the tunnel is dangerous
I give you directness and simplicity
The two virtues some poets have
I am not a surrealist, I arrange not anagrams
Our problem is the editors can't hear,
The mapmakers can't read

All right, I will say it,
I am my generation's prophet, nothing less
Desperate, I am a prophet of doom and revenge
Not like that fellow with the gray beard you love to name shopping centers for
Nor the pockmarked drunk who wrote bartender movies
And played the horses, before and after clerking in the post office, his nicotine teeth
I am as close to a prophet, minor not major, an Amos not Isaiah,
As you are likely to get

My city is composed of buildings
Extraordinary buildings, and of rhythms
Furious in their speed and shift,
No one else can give you these
I am uniquely positioned
My poems are promises

Yes, I am that egotistical, that bigheaded
I sing of rivers, and of sky, streets, women, and men.
And I repeat myself endlessly
Reiteration piled upon iteration
Echoes, reverberations, alerts, rings
Forever and ever, amen

And it hits me now how delightful it is to be alive
Not crushed by a misbegotten collapsing tower
And covered in the dust and ash of three thousand souls
Humans vaporized but for fingerprints and eye lashes
That fall all over my morning coat and fake fur hat
And spoil being alive and outside on this brilliant day
In the best, last golden decades of the one holy universal
And unitary empire, a pre-eminent state, run by men,

Bipeds without feathers, dry drunks
With the flat, glazed eyes of crustaceans

Yes, this morning I wrote a sermon
The nuns, in their itchy woolen habits,
So pleased with my discipline

A single-engine biplane
Sputtered and crashed
Into the gated Bath & tennis club,
Clipping a stand of trees, and narrowly
Missing the Olympic pool.
Residents observed it
In very slow motion
Come down.

It clipped the royal palms
To the west of the pool
Then glanced off the power tower
A reticent witness from his townhouse, stuttered.

Then the pilot dropped out,
More or less, unharmed.
"I almost made it,"
The bruised pilot sobbed.

Money flows into Wall Street's narrow rapids
And death comes with it too, cold as steel and glass
The sheep whose job is to be food
Foodstuff for the machines that eat them
The sheep are fuel, and, famously,
As the sacred texts attest, fish drown on land

Many women have lost the skill to be open or frank
Many men cannot acquire an erection, or a direction
The world was not always like this
The world will not only be this
The present changes the future and the future fashions the past it needs

In August New York leveled by heat
The herd deafened by excessive discipline and an insufficient dose of madness
That is why I am here, to add to the median average
Of the insanity of the moon; the 200 day moving standard

We are deaf, large
Salaried men, big-intentioned, wide
Legged fools, who cannot sing French.

The Chinese security guard
In front of the Bank of America
Is not working all that hard
But has a canvas brown uniform on
And a fabulous blue gun

The sky turns dead red.

Swarms of windows devour more than half the night
As if darkness could be held at bay
How can the dawn bring joy if the dark
Does not bring the grief we are obliged to change?

Sorrow, give me your hand, and walk my streets
The colors of the setting sun reflected in our eyes
Our tears added to the confluence of scarlet rivers


If you hear this,
Readers, brothers & sisters
Yes, you reader, you
Who are about to yawn

We live forever
No doubt an actuarial advantage!
So be it, amen.

I love when you cry
You seem more faithful to me
I love when your pain breaks forth
I drink your tears like wine, dark
Salty wine in which your eyes have drowned

The angels sweep in off the bay,
Hidden by gale,
Launching laser lightning bolts
Against the stone city, barricades
And trees burning, rivers burning
Cyclone, storm, tornado
Forever and ever
May they boil in divine wrath
As it is now and ever shall be, red
Shifts toward the infinite
With the rapidity and rapacity
Of god's implacable hand

The colors of the dying sun
Reflected in their eyes
Like cattle offered for sacrifice
A paid dancer dances,
Held on the floor by her pole,
Her painted smile,
Her balletic heels & toes

Woman worships herself without disgust
Smooth stomach above velvet loins
Man, full of himself, with greed and lust,
One runs, another hides
Then backs that bent all day sink into mattresses


A cough spattering blood
A new moon that has no end
Give me your hand, Sorrow, come

The tickertape parade papers stick
Like butterflies, a little this way, a little that
And you reach for one, the one
That lands on your ridiculous Italian
Leather tasseled loafers, and sticks
There like blood, like an order
By the local triangulated governor

And it's blank, blank, on both sides
White and blank as a Panama homburg
Or a Vietnamese gluey death memo
And it smells, stinks of plastic epoxy
And of iodine, and mercuric resin
And it leaves a powdery print on your palm

The palm that used to have such a long line
Like an invitation to something
You need but can't find

Blank, blank on both sides, and utterly white
Like a panama hat or a Hanoi death note reminder
And it stinks of epoxy and iodine
Like an invitation to something you won't be able to find
Yet can't help yearning for

You retrace your steps, squint
You hope to stumble over a gravestone
A lime slab like Hamilton has, and Fulton
And Gallatin who financed another rebellion
You desire to fall over a gravestone
With your name on it, words, a phrase or two
And the years you were alive

We live forever; we persist
And remain, without an end,
Relentless, insistent, Amen.










Angelo Verga is a poet, teacher, and editor, who curates the most influential series of readings in New York City, the 325 or more a year literary events at the Cornelia Street Cafe. He has published six collections of poetry to date, including 33 NYC Poems (Booklyn, 2005). He lives at the southern tip of Manhattan where he keeps one eye on Wall Street and the other on The Statue of Liberty.





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