Volume 29, Number 4


One lone bulb hanging from a tin ceiling
in the tenement where I used to fly blind
around the corner to the bodega
where I never received any change 
from the large bills I often paid with.
I knew I was getting beat, but I was too high
to calculate.

I tap-danced on the loading dock on Broome Street.
I visited Stanley in his macramé shop on Thompson Street. 
He fought in the Spanish Civil War,
but rarely spoke of it.

This day, he was making chicken soup with apples
on his stovetop in the rear of the store. He invited me
to share dinner, as he often did.

Later, we went to the Back Fence, where Jill Freedman
breezed in with a brand-new copy of her latest book,
Circus Days. Her photographs of elephants became
a topic of discussion in universities across the country.

I was in the wind for many years.
I had a hole in my head where my brain
used to be. I filled the hole with fictitious stories
and ignored tugs toward truth.

At times, my life was split between spiritual growth
and breaking the law. By day, I worked a mail fraud;
at night, I went to healing meetings.

I ran the con job until my legs gave out. As my dishonesty
faded, a collection of wall-hanging masks crashed
to the floor; and there I was, crawling around,
desperately looking for a face to wear.

Always a windy being, my thoughts flow in, out
and through my head so fast and far out, I have worried
I wouldn’t make it back.

When the drugs wore off, my friends welcomed me back.
“You’ve been gone longer than any of us.
Gene didn’t make it back,
John didn’t make it back,
Jamie didn’t make it back,
But, somehow, you returned.”

My mind was sound, and, in moments of reflection,
I wondered how many spirits and prayers assisted
my return?

Back in the tenement, the bright morning sunlight
reflected off the maple kitchen table where I sat
drinking a fresh brewed cup of Gillies Ethiopian coffee.
I drank it slowly, practically meditating on the deep,
rich flavor of the African blend.

Rastas began dancing in a hypnotic moment that was mine
alone. I may improvise my life for a moment or a lifetime;
depends on how good the coffee is.

—Mary Shanley