The End of an Ethnic Dream

Cigarettes in my mouth
to puncture blisters in my brain.
My bass a fine piece of furniture.
My fingers soft, too soft to rattle
rafters in second-rate halls.
The harmonies I could never learn
stick in Ayler's screams.
An African chant chokes us. My image shot.

If you look off over the Hudson,
the dark cooperatives spit at the dinghies
floating up the night.

                A young boy pisses
on lovers rolling against each other
under a trackless el.

         This could have been my town,
with light strings that could stand a tempo.

                  Now,
                  it's the end
                  of an ethnic dream.

I've grown intellectual,
go on accumulating furniture and books,
damning literature, writing “for myself,”
calculating the possibilities that someone
will love me, or sleep with me.
Eighteen-year-old girls come back from the Southern
leers and make me cry.

                  Here, there are
                  coffee shops, bars,
                  natural tonsorial parlors,
                  plays, streets,
                  pamphlets, days, sun,
                  heat, love, anger,
                  politics, days, and sun.

Here, we shoot off
every day to new horizons,
coffee shops, bars,
natural tonsorial parlors,
plays, streets,
pamphlets, days, sun,
heat, love, anger,
politics, days, and sun.

                  It is the end of an ethnic dream.
                  My bass a fine piece of furniture.
                  My brain blistered.

Jay Wright, “The End of an Ethnic Dream” from Transfigurations: Collected Poems (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2000). Copyright © 2000 by Jay Wright. Reprinted with the permission of the author.
Source: Transfigurations: Collected Poems (Louisiana State University Press, 2000)