After the Grand Union

You do not find much on a walk
in Saratoga now. The old
main drag lies low, like a tidal
flat or dry bed of a stream won
to deeper channels. The elms froze,
stripped bare by Dutch disease. Faces
on election posters moon down,
fat and forgotten. And the white
forest of columns, the long grove
of the hotel porches has gone
in steady, glacial withdrawals,
with pier-glass mirrors and beveled
crystal chandeliers, like Christmas
trees, coiffing ormolu salons
of wrought rosewood and gold epergnes.
Empty for years, the Grand Union
where Victor Herbert played. Eaves where
twenty valets of Diamond Jim
were bedded down.
The air where he
bet thousands on the final length
of a cigar ash
hangs still and
smokeless, now Broadway is logged clear.
Pickers came and went. (Slater Brown
even secured the gilded trim
of Lillian Russell’s bathroom.)
Yet time remains for horses, when
August and the rich arrive. They
treat their favorites to cool nights,
Canadian hay, the waters. . . .
One sleek girl, a won wife, from black
goggles high in her box stared down
the track, unflinching, observing
his family’s entries, exertions
an aspect of her condition.
Star-nailed fingers touched a face stilled
like the face of Nefretete.
When the mansions turned cold the tall
light-limbed Negroes of the village
lidded the long Victorian
windows with patches of plywood.
Cross lawns of Skiddy von Stade’s
immaculate, bandaged cottage
the wind released the gathered leaves.
One night, two thoroughbreds, pardoned
from their stalls, timidly ventured
in Union Avenue’s headlights.
I watched them where they swam, dazzled
down that crystal rapids, away
to the dangerous dark; whinnying
for surer feet, for cooler nerves,
— sunlight perhaps, and simple fields;
brittle and frail, yet
in the cold of a mortal season.