The Village: The Seasons

To Saul Touster

I. JANUARY 22, 1932

Could a four-year-old look out on a square sedan
(A Studebaker Six in currency green
With wooden artillery wheels) and see a scene
Of snow, light lavender, landing on deepening blue
Buildings built out of red-violet bricks, and black
Passersby passing by over the widening white
Streets darkening blue, under a thickening white
Sky suddenly undergoing sheer twilight,
And the yellow but whitening streetlights coining on,
And remember it now, though the likelihood is gone
That it ever happened at all, and the village is gone
That it ever could happen in? Memory, guttering out,
Apparently, finally flares up and banishes doubt.

II. MAY 29, 1941

Tring. Bells
On grocers’ boys’ bicycles ring.
Followed, on cue,
By the jaunty one-note of prayers at LWO Near churches; taxi horns, a-hunt,
Come in for treble; next, the tickety bass
Of chain-driven Diamond T’s, gone elephantine
And stove-enameled conifer green
Down Greenwich Avenue.
Out of the Earle
I issue at half-past thirteen,
Struck, like a floral clock,
By seasonal
Manifestations: unreasonable
NYU girls out in their bobby socks
And rayon blouses; meek boys with their books
Who have already molted mackinaws:
Desarrolimiento of
New chrome-green leaves; a rose,
Got, blooming, out of bed; and Mrs. Roos-
Evelt and Sarah Delano
Descending the front stoop of a Jamesian
House facing south against the Square, the sun—
Who, curveting, his half course not yet run,
Infects the earth with crescence;
And the presence
Of process, seen in un-top-hatted,
Un-frock-coated burghers and their sons
And daughters, taking over
All title, right, and interest soever
In this, now their
Property, Washington Square.

III. DECEMBER 29, 1949

The Motel Storia ascends
Above me and my new wife; ends
Eight stories of decline, despair,
Iron beds and hand-washed underwear
Above us and our leatherette
Chattels, still grounded on the wet
Gray tessellated lobby floor.
Soon, through a dingy, numbered door,
We’ll enter into our new home,
Provincials in Imperial Rome
To seek their fortune, or, at least;
To find a job. The wedding feast,
Digested and metabolized,
Diminishes in idealized
Group photographs, and hard today
Shunts us together and at bay.
Outside the soot-webbed window, sleet
Scourges the vista of Eighth Street;
Inside, the radiators clack
And talk and tell us to go back
Where we came from. A lone pecan
Falls from your lunch, a sticky bun,
And bounces on the trampoline
Of the torn bedspread. In the mean
Distance of winter, a man sighs,
A bedstead creaks, a woman cries.

IV. JULY 14, 1951

A summer lull arrives in the West Village,
Transmuting houses into silent salvage
Of the last century, streets into wreckage
Uncalled-for by do-gooders who police
The moderniqueness of our ways, patrol
The sanitation of our urban soul.
What I mean is, devoid of people, all
Our dwellings freeze and rust in desuetude,
Fur over with untenancy, glaze gray
With summer’s dust and incivility,
With lack of language and engagement, while
Their occupants sport, mutate, and transform
Themselves, play at dissembling the god Norm
From forward bases at Fire Island. But—
Exception proving rules, dissolving doubt—
Young Gordon Walker, fledgling editor,
My daylong colleague in the corridors
Of Power & Leicht, the trade-book publishers,
Is at home to the residue in his
Acute apartment in an angle of
Abingdon Square. And they’re all there, the rear-
Guard of the garrison of Fort New York:
The skeleton defense of skinny girls
Who tap the typewriters of summertime;
The pale male workers who know no time off
Because too recently employed; the old
Manhattan hands, in patched and gin-stained tweeds;
The writers (Walker’s one), who see in their
City as desert an oasis of
Silence and time to execute their plots
Against the state of things, but fall a prey
To day succeeding day alone, and call
A party to restore themselves to all
The inside jokes of winter, in whose caul
People click, kiss like billiard balls, and fall,
Insensible, into odd pockets. Dense
As gander-feather winter snow, intense
As inextinguishable summer sun
At five o’clock (which it now is), the noise
Of Walker’s congeries of girls and boys
Foregathered in their gabbling gratitude
Strikes down the stairwell from the altitude
Of his wide-open walk-up, beckoning
Me, solo, wife gone north, to sickening
Top-story heat and talk jackhammering
Upon the anvils of all ears. “Christ, Lou, you’re here,”
Whoops Walker, topping up a jelly jar
(“Crabapple,” says the label, still stuck on)
With gin and tonic, a blue liquid smoke
That seeks its level in my unexplored
Interior, and sends back a sonar ping
To echo in my head. Two more blue gins.
The sweat that mists my glasses interdicts
My sizing up my interlocutor,
Who is, I think, the girl who lives next door,
A long-necked, fiddleheaded, celliform
Girl cellist propped on an improbably
Slim leg. Gin pings are now continuous.
The room swings in its gimbals. In the bath
Is silence, blessed, relative, untorn
By the cool drizzle of the bathtub tap,
A clear and present invitation. Like
A climber conquering K.28,
I clamber over the white porcelain
Rock face, through whitish veils of rubberized
Shower curtain, and at length, full-dressed, recline
In the encaustic crater, where a fine
Thread of cold water irrigates my feet,
To sleep, perchance to dream of winter in
The Village, fat with its full complement
Of refugees returned to their own turf—
Unspringy as it is—in a strong surf
Of retrogressing lemmings, faces fixed
On the unlovely birthplace of their mixed
Emotions, marriages, media, and met-
Aphors. Lord God of hosts, be with them yet.