Three Letters to Vilnius
|New York, January 12, 1991
The Terror of Public Places
Last summer, on the stairs of Chicago’s Art Institute,
Arvydas (my sculptor friend from Vilnius) and I watched a madman
in rags fiercely stroke the tail of a bronze lion.
“You know,” Arvydas commented, “it’s scary, only in America one
could be killed in public, by an insane person, for no reason at all.”
But remember the crazy woman who’d endlessly ride the trolleybus,
complaining of the ills of communism — the sausage lines,
the barbed wire tears in her shoes, the identical raincoats women
bought and wore each spring. And no one could stop her.
She’d sway onto passengers, wrap her arms around their waists,
flutter her pigeon-hands. Losing hold of the arm strap, she’d topple
raising her shrill voice yet another octave to make a point.
More than once on the Staten Island ferry I’ve seen this man board,
shaking at the prospect of gliding slowly past the Statue of Liberty yet
that bronze woman, that green woman, that fat woman with big feet
seagull and pigeon shit combined on the crown of her head.
He’d have a couple of beers and masturbate with anticipation.
He’d hang over the railing in the freezing wind;
all the beige-gray commuters would gaze at him in tired
the sneakers on their own feet slowly decaying.
I won’t say what happened once we passed the statue.
Only that later he would brisk himself down the ramp, along with
towards the buses and commuter trains.
|New York, January 13, 1991,
The End of the World on Long Island Sound
Does a pick-up truck holding three white crosses
gliding over the slow winter sands of Long Island Sound
mean the apocalypse has come at last?
Does a chicken bone lying on the cracked subway stairs
mean civilization is finally collapsing?
I wonder — freeze-dried from city life —
could the end have begun already?
And I haven’t yet this year blessed myself
with holy water—
or ever owned a horse or a big dog, trained it
to sit and heel—
or published several books
each spaced a few years apart
like well-planned children.
Does this mean I may no longer
swim out into the middle of the waves —
float, an iridescent rainbow of oil hallowing my head,
the smell of burned tires enveloping me?
Will the anti-Christ show up in a clean, unrumpled suit?
Will everyone have to buy everything with credit cards now—
like the born-agains warn us?
And finally, will shopping malls crumble
into concrete slabs, loom up like mass graves
against the acrid twilight—
unleashing all our angry and disappointed ancestors?
|New York, January 25, 1991
An Unmailed Letter
You read Oskar Milosz’s poetic prophesies
and that was enough
to convince you
to face all the tanks in Russia
with your bare palms pushed outward.
But for me, knowing you is like loving someone
who is already dead,
like loving someone whose name will appear
one day in my infant son’s fifth grade history texts.
Yes, you were right,
I copped out on the revolution.
I missed out on the party.
Still, I wrote a poem for you
while watching news reports on television:
Gorbachev had not yet emerged
and plans to shoot everyone in the Parliament
had not yet been foiled.
Luckily you are like a cat
and walk away unscathed — (one heart attack does not count).
But you know, sometimes, when writing a poem,
I get an orgasm, and once, thinking about you,
I found an untethered cow bellowing in the woods.