Growing up in Paterson


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 Car alarm music echoes

 off the walls of city hall,

 a symphony of Paterson

 thick in coke dealers and

 homeless, the

 grungy institutions

 of the street who hide

 shyly under newspapers

 and cardboard till someone

 turns it off.



 Two: Carol Street


All shapes are dangerous,

the window squares shattered into four

equal parts, little girls dancing in each,

a mystery chant of play and song,

tugging at him like a cat with string,

leaning closer and closer to the glass,

or the man in the candy shop slipping him

lollipops for free, while eyeing

mother's breasts,

or the glories of

park stone around which he pranced,

stern faced Union Generals

stained with pigeon droppings and rain,

looking over the beer bottles and sleeping

old men on the benches facing Carol Street

mother shouting for him to cease his reckless

careening through the trees and leaves and

empty dreams.




He leaped from the Great Falls Bridge for Love,

Silk City's ancient mills dark with dusk,

bobbing in the water like a beer can,

another poem for Williams Carlos Williams'

collection, pockets stuffed with vials

of unsold crack, mother's reflection

thick in his eyes, and the parade of men,

each claiming title of father 

above, silhouetted cops haloed by clouds

of billowing blue gun smoke, saying

"He must be dead. No one could have

survived that!"  And he, crawling out

of the mud three miles downstream,

leaving a trail of wet

back to his mother.




    Rich girls wearing tie dyed shirts

    come this way, Paterson's City Hall,

    a backdrop of bird shit, bullshit and

    metal politicians, a last stand alamo

    with no Davey Crockett, only faces

    breathing heavy from benches under

    "People" magazine,

    Rich girls giggling, rolling

    bus change in the palms of their hands,

    waiting for the number three

    to pull in and take them

    back to the suburbs.


Four: Stop the World


Blacklight mania plagues old city shop

Paterson's hip in sixty eight with own

head place, pipes and filters and scales,

and long haired kids of sixteen looking

for thrills, their mothers' skirts

still crushed on their faces,

crying about war and dying,

thinking like dumb white niggers,

uniform graves and body bags and the

half masted flags flying over city hall,

getting high over the great falls

with their Vietcong flags

and lack of courage.


Five: Hens



Plaster-faced prostitutes cluttered the old laundry like hens,

clucking over egg-colored washers as they eye the street

borrowing dimes and nickels for the public phone

 from the grey-headed old man that tends the machines,

 his wrinkled face long passed the issue of desire,

 nodding at the fancy cars and white-faced figures from Garfield

 who pull up to the curb and beep their horns with engines running,

 looking this way and that like fugitives,

 as if their wives would suddenly appear,

 as if their wives did not own washer and dryer or telephone,

 needing no thin dimes to make their connections.




Cheap street vendors sell fruit and flowers,

 rooster roosting on their eggs like a savage guard dog,

 clucking up and down with crooked claws,

 jowels wagging, gaze studying impatient city workers as they travel home:

 Mercedes and Lincolns locked in long line behind the traffic light,

 leaning on their horns,

 mocking the rooster with their grim faces and rude stares,

 buying nothing from nobody,

 afraid to even crack a window despite the heat.




They picked us up

for pitching pennies

at city hall


sparkling copper

coins caught

in the bright

city lights


like fire flies, they flew

bounding off the creviced face

of old Alexander Hamilton


and the pigeon-stained

statues of static mayors

whose frowns found

no sympathy

in cold



ringing coins

in their metal ears

judas music,

to which the police


hauling us

to jail.




Lady in Purple hat

has her rap down,

laying out family portrait

on people as they pass


"My child"s child,"

she tells a women who

waiting for the bus

"Needs money for her

baby, whose father

was last seen

pimping virgins

on Market street."


She waves prescription

forms and bills

from charity hospital"s

emergency room,

public service gas and electric,

who"ve threatened to turn

off service

for Christmas


a documented life

of horror with

serrated edges

and sense that it

is all somehow





Main street in Summer, a cruel mistake

stores filled with last minute shoppers,

buses coming and going in indignant air

and you, waiting for New York,



To go or stay, the Hudson dividing

the world in two, no mere New Yorker

vision, but a distant island

which even Columbus could not find.


The flat earth leading us to the brink,

weekly visits climbing down one side

of the Palisade cliffs

and up the other,

fingers bleeding from the cracks.


And you go,

boarding the bus with the sunshine

caught on the edge of your bag,

dragging it away with you,

leaving hazy grey skylessness



And as I return,

crossing through the fumes

I think of you, your careful fingers

clutching each crack

as you climb.




I fell for his trick once,

when he came panting panic

saying his tire had "Got tore up"

on a pot-hole in Paterson,

and how he only needed

fifteen more bucks to get his

butt out of town, and me, with a

large heart and just cashed

paycheck, laid seven hard-earned

saw-bucks into his upturned palm,

wearing my guilt for owning a car

with four whole tires

until two days later

when he found me on Main Street

ribbing me with the same old line,

and him with a bundle in his

pocket so big

he could have

bought a car.




We sang the "Chock-full-of-nuts" song

at 3 a.m. outside her window, three

very drunk stooges trying to say what

we had never said to her face, sang

and ran, our footsteps echoed by the

old woman's shout that she was calling

the police, though in the morning

there was coffee, cross-buns and aspirin

at each of our doors, and a note saying:

 "I love you, too, you crazy men!"



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