White people leave the express
at 96th Street, collectively,
like pigeons from a live wire
or hope from the hearts of Harlem.
And I’m one of them, although
my lover sleeps two stops north between
Malcolm X and Adam Clayton Powell
Boulevards, wishing my ass
were cupped inside her knees and belly,
wishing this in a dream thick
I live on Riverside Drive. My face
helped get me here. I was
ruddy with anticipation the day
I interviewed for the rooms
near the park with its
snow-covered maples. I was full
of undisguised hope as I
strolled along the river, believing
I belonged there, that my people
inherited this wonderland
unequivocally, as if they deserved it.
My lover buys twinkies from the Arabs,
bootleg tapes on ‘25th,
and carries a blade in her back
pocket although her hands
are the gentlest I’ve known.
She ignores the piss smells
on the corner, the sirens
at 4 A.M., the men whose brains
have dissolved in rum. And tries
to trust a white woman who
sleeps near the trees of Riverside.
When we go out together,
we avoid expensive
cafés on Columbus Avenue, jaunts
to the Upper East Side. Harlem
eyes us suspiciously or with
contempt beneath half-closed lids.
We have friends there,
hidden in the ruins like gold, who
accept us. When it snows,
we walk boldly anywhere, as if the snow
were a protection, or a death.