Living in the Future
By now, I had expected cities under domes
Protected from the rain and snow
That fell, cascaded. like droplets
I traced with one finger
On the car window
As a child, when something
Seemed to call perpetually from the sky
With its wandering sputniks, its permanent stars.
Maybe it was the 1964 World's Fair
Built on the cattail marsh in Queens
Which ruined me forever
With its 21st century vision--
Cities on the moon, cities on Mars...
We'd arrive even before the gate opened
On Sunday morning
With my father, who on his day of rest
Took us to worship progress.
I had expected a monorail to the horizon,
Cars that ran on perfume,
That answered my questions
Or moved silent as far-away helium balloons
Like Baba Yaga's house on chicken legs
A portable habitation...
The future was safer than the past
Came close in my dreams.
Sometimes on the beach
Facing east towards the Atlantic
It was as if
The ocean could roll back
Huge low-tide before tidal wave struck
And there, on the far shore of Europe
I could see the black and white movie
You reach the border--
The news isn't good
Your husband is dead, or your father,
Or maybe your mother's brother.
Still, you are alive, if
Exhausted beyond endurance
In the spring air.
It's 1939, or 1999,
You no longer wear
The national costume
Of kerchief and petticoats
But a nice jacket, a cheap knock-off
Of something Italian designed in L.A.;
And you still have your children,
That's important, both of them,
The boy and girl.
Although you fled Tamerlane and Ghenghis Khan
Hitler and Stalin,
Although you flee this week's strong man
And in the news photo
Your dark eyes look dead
In the back of the truck
Although the news from the interior is not good
Villages burned, mass graves, air strikes
Still, I know from my own experience
That you will cross this border,
Make a living driving a cab
In some great city
Learning to curse in French or English.
Or open a grocery store
With piles of tomatoes and oranges
Even, on the counter, baked delicacies
Dripping pistachios and honey
By the cash register
A lost taste of home.
I ran into Eddie at the Pyramid
Souvlaki joint in a parking lot strip
Really, at that moment I was perfectly happy
Reading a seven-day library book
I had no intention of returning on time
Eating pita bread with hummos.
I told Eddie I was going to Las Vegas
He smiled, a family man, and said:
Play five dollars for me.
Black against night sky, black pyramid
Beams a searchlight heavenward of the strip
It's Egypt, Egypt, in the sphinx, the lobby, where statues of Ramses,
To rule impassive over this new proleteriat.
In the book of Exodus my ancestors crossed in time's nick
Sea, desert, now I'm here in this hotel
Where through the window dawn breaks a pale and lovely red over Vegas
Western mountains, pigeons. talking hieroglyph
Pool, palm tree, glass pyramid, veiled figure, me.
Obelisk, sphinx, or pyramid
You can undress, or you can strip
Flesh off bone, the hoochie-coochie poem
Memory like a transcluscent bone
I'll never be free, shackled in time
An obsessive re-telling, or tribal history
Chance is God's opposite
God who put a light into each word, but everything said--
I'll play five bucks for Eddie.