BRONX PASTORAL—April 30, 2020
By Carl James Grindley
The peak, I figure, was on Good Friday,
Halfway through my own sickness,
When the medical center ran out of body bags
And had to use bed linens to wrap the dead,
They even ordered another cold truck to put them in.
All of that, I thought, was a stone that could not
Or perhaps should not
Be rolled away.
Today, at about 3 am, a homeless man was walking
Down the middle of Walton Avenue,
And for whatever reason, he broke
The dark calm to tell me about Jesus,
Tell me that no matter how much Jesus loved me,
Jesus was also angry, angry about
Something incoherently mumbled and indistinct,
Something shouted and frightening and perhaps
Ineffable, so I opened my window a little
Wider, just to hear about whatever it was that had upset
Jesus so much, and I could hear my neighbors,
From silent shadows and dreams, sliding
Their windows wide too.
Hours later, there was a man outside
My building and he was coughing so much
He vomited twice. He has been doing this for weeks,
Always at the same time every day—
He is probably just an alcoholic,
So next time he does it,
If you see me turning to look,
It is not at him at all,
I just want to see the new spring rain
Which has begun to fall.
Death is receding like a neap tide—
There are small and quite absolute silences between the sirens,
And the sound of the wind passing through the leaves,
And the sound of the birds and the sound of the rain itself,
Glisters just the way it used to
Before anyone dead lived here.
Masks and gloves discolor and decay
Alongside the ancient syringes and the desiccated cat shit
That is forever piled up around the trunks
Of the newly budding trees. Delivery men
In short sleeves fight one another in the blind
Alleyway by the bodega. The super,
His mask pulled down around his chin, smokes
A cigarette and drinks a cup of coffee. Surely
Spring has come. Surely this is a sign
Of something, if not an approaching end,
Then a simple weariness, an anesthesia
Concocted out of too many weeks of caring,
And too many identical meals.
The London planetrees on Walton Avenue are slowly
Unfurling as if impatient for a better audience to arrive–
Yesterday, my neighbor across the street held his peace until
The sun drew all the way down, then he snuck out
And dumped cat shit and cat litter around the base
Of each tree like he was trying to do all of us a favor,
Repay a debt none of us knew had been incurred.
Who knows how many people watched him,
Perhaps all of us.
He has been doing this for at least fifteen years now,
An old man with an old cat,
And a seemingly inexhaustible supply
Of shit and bad manners.
The rain is falling past the cracked
Sodium street lights, falling past the stop lights, falling
On the defunct Pentecostal church on the corner, running
Down the bodega’s gray shutters, and the road is so beautiful
That the world no longer matters:
All of this is tiresome prologue
For a book that is 99% index.
Of course, the spring will continue
To arrive, continue to build until it has fashioned
The summer and then the fall
Out of its own green image,
But the spring and the summer and the fall and even next winter
And the winter after that are not the heart of the thing.
The heart of the thing is an old man
Who sneaks out at night
And dumps cat shit absolutely everywhere.
On the Concourse, gas is two bucks a gallon,
And one in seven small business owners on my block
Have good enough spelling to explain
Why they boarded up, and assholes
Have tagged the hoardings
As if they wanted to claim all of it
As their own. They can have it.
There is a tiny median between Cardinal Hayes
And the place where you can buy live chickens
And live pheasants to kill at home: red tulips
And purple tulips and white daffodils grow
In perfect order, a whole host of them, bent
In the rain, but perfect all the same. In 15 years
I have never seen them before. Every other year,
I suppose, someone rips them up
The moment they bloom.
This city should be difficult jazz in perverse time signatures.
Fake Tibetan monks and cheese
I can neither pronounce nor afford.
This city should be movies I make myself see,
And gazes I decline to meet
As I walk down the street.
The streets are still full of stinking garbage
But it’s just not the same.
This city should be perfect
Or it should go on without us.
Without any of us.
If I were designing a soundtrack for the end of it all,
I’m not so sure I would have gone with
Merengues and bachatas and salsas
All seemingly played on autorepeat
Through the world’s worst car stereo
On a perfectly fine rainy morning.
My neighbor who drives an uber is washing his car in the street.
Who is he picking up? A doctor? A nurse?
Where are they going?–and now, he is talking
To that neighbor of mine who cannot or will not stop
Coughing and vomiting. And they get up close,
As close as they can, and the other guy does not stop
Coughing, and they are right in each other’s faces,
And there is a cough between each gasped
And imperfectly formed word,
Like a metronome click track keeping perfect time
For God Almighty as he spins up the next disc, and surprise
Surprise surprise it is more salsa to mark the end
Of the end of it all.
They are wearing their masks like scarves by the way.
Life is a party. A highway. A ship in a rain squall,
With fog ahead and with fog behind, and a moment
To focus before it all goes white.
The down-low bar on the corner papered
Over its door with The Post and lowered
The blinds, but it stayed open the whole
Time anyway. Alcoholics go there too,
So it is essential
In its own South Bronx way.
Last night, after the old man dumped the cat shit,
And before the preacher arrived,
It was still so quiet-colored at evening’s end
That I could hear the feral cats fucking on a stoop across
The street. Fucking
With the sort of intensity
Not even teenagers have anymore,
Like they fully expected the whole world to
Stop to hear them fuck;
Someone, one of my neighbors,
Shouted something at the cats,
And then shouted a few more things just in general,
But the cats did not stop,
And there was no reason why they should–
Every vestige of it was
Breathless and dumb.
But all of it is receding, like a stone rolled
Away from a tomb’s open mouth—
It isn’t empty inside, indeed, the bodies are stacked high,
And room is needed for still more,
But as the stone comes to halt,
For an instant, for the smallest part
Of an inevitable spring, you can hear
The birds and the rain.
One day, I am going to come up with a way
To bottle everything that happened, and sell it
On the internet so everyone can have a turn:
I was shivering so hard two Thursdays ago
That I cracked a tooth,
And maybe everyone would like the taste
Of blood in their mouths once in a while.
Imagine that: a little bottle, a warning
Label, take for fever and chills.
I wanted to phone my Dad up
And tell him about all of this,
But he died two years ago this
So it is just me.