claremont park (the bronx)
by Urayoán Noel

    claremont park     ¿cuál monte claro?     es claro monte     although any amount of
    clarity     is relative     who claims the clarity     in these foggy climes?     there's the 
    climate change inside     anticlimactic      like the denouement     of my neurons in
    free fall     free speech     tortured lesson     there is no free for all     there is no
    festooning of the city     at least not right now     only the auto-tuning     only the
    airplanes overhead     only the midnights in mid-flight     the flights that brought
    so many people here     from unhomely homelands     to these racquetball courts
    for what city can there be without a racket     who can explain the city     without
    airplanes overhead     even in claremont park     my voice still needs a spark
    something more than eating     cuchifritos with a spork     there must be other perks
    in these contiguous shores     there must be spores     there must be stamens
    there must be bark     at the moon     at the passersby     from suspension bridges
    at the outlet malls     in the suburbs we all inhabit     the caresses we inhibit     just
    texting our digits     into our smartphones     and heading home     to huddle under
    covers     with lovers also frigid     naming the frauds of the self     we see in the
    mirror     no one's demurer than me     in my yellow knit cap     okay so maybe i
    exaggerate     isn't hyperbole what builds a city?     a poet i used to like once wrote
    “the bronx? no thonx!”     i call that poet “¡cabronx!”     you thought you owned the 
    city     but it devoured you     spit out your corpse as mulch     from its cement gulch
    the remnants of your culture     turned to dust     for future angels     the ones who 
    will occupy this park     or whatever's on these grounds     a hundred years from now
    the ones who can survive     the eternal noise of air traffic overhead     we're halfway
    into march     and i've marched halfway through the park     patches of snow     
    fighting it out with the incipient green     the groan of spring     ¿qué te digo?     ya 
    pronto se va a poner bonito     ya pronto vamo' a comer boniato     en la barbacoa 
    con la macacoa     y la cocolería llena de algarabía     sonando por las bocinas     de 
    las esquinas     de tus colinas     where todo rima or casi casi     casi casi écfrasis
    everything almost rhymes     in your climes     in these times     we are all somehow 
    still sublime     beautiful in out stillness     in our illness     of walking in place     with 
    home in our hoodies     and our families     as ringtones on our phones     down with 
    another mercurochrome winter!     down with the scattershot spambot!     the 
    photoshop approach to urban renewal     that turns every art deco jewel     into a
    failed co-op     i'm okay with destruction     with disruption     if it's done from within
    with awareness of the self     as it fissures and flails     all the ways that it fails     i'm 
    okay with singing     tear the roof off the sucker     tear the roof off the sucker
    tear the roof off the...     (sumtin sumtin)     with a bachata or dembow beat     as 
    long as we let     the painful beauty of our streets     work its way through us     i
    guess i'm an adult viewfinder     a bumpy grindr     a snap chatterbox     whose vlogs 
    are never erased     recorded forever and circulated     on the social networks of the
    elsewhere     the no longer here     the ether that owns us      that exceeds these 
    dying breeds     i need enough remarks     to make my way     back to the other side 
    of the park     that's the trouble     with improvising     you always end up capsizing
    such was the fate of your eyes     on the beach that evening     but i won't say more 
    about that     now speech is leaving me     i can't reach that feeling     i can't teach 
    myself     to preserve the meaning     it will disappear     become blurry     no longer 
    clear     something no one can declare     a bodily mark     haunting my every step
    through claremont park     i'm not saying i could claim a spark     i'm not saying 
    there's an epic project here     in these improvisations     the breeze and its 
    cessation     i'm not saying there's a lyric here either     a panegyric on urban space
    a poem with a capital p     or even some pounding drum and bass     there's nothing
    here but walking     working my way to the depths     one erratic step at a time
    (that wasn't planned     i almost fell there     into the quicksand     from which i came)
    i'm not the selfsame     i'm not the one who wrote poems     hoping to be redeemed 
    through laughter     looking for an irony     that could map our disaster     i don't
    know what i'm looking for now     but i don't mean that sentimentally     just in the 
    rudimentary sense     elementary perhaps     my dear walkman for the digital age
    i've turned the page     into clickbait     but i still believe in print     in language as 
    changeable     as exchanged     in bargain basement rates     i still believe in a poem
    that can map these states      while acknowledging we're all stateless     weightless in
    the expanse of city     i'm working my way through the pain     and even if it sounds
    new-agey     like a cheap attempt at poetic resolution     before my battery dies
    and you turn your digital eyes     to other stimuli     let me say that working through
    that painbeauty painbeauty painbeauty painbeauty painbeauty painbeauty
    painbeautypain     is its own kind of freedom     freedom from  the very screen     that
    names my body     the freedom of speaking     once there's nothing left to say     the
    freedom of somehow     no way     the freedom to leave the park     to face up to the
    dark     to erase the trademark     from the wrinkles on my face     to name a place
    the bronx     or a company my fresh shirt     to let there be no doubt     that there's
    always more chinese food to take out     to show off your skills at the bar and grill
    to take care of two kinds of cleaning at once     the clothes and the soul     to get all 
    your needs met     the promise of neoliberal selfhood     income tax     internet     
    notary     color copies     its own kind of free market      its own kind of freedom
    as remarkable as the remarks we never make     at the fried chicken places at 4am     
    where they recognize our faces     liquor stores     and barber shops     and
    international markets     and delis of the smelly and not so smelly kind     and repair 
    centers i'll never enter     what is the hardware of my stride?     who plays ball on
    these fields?     what happens when our bodies yield     surrendering to space?     
    this song is for     all the despised bodies     of which i have been one      even in all
    my privilege     i'm dredging the lake of language     to see what i come up with     
    but i missed the bus     to the george washington bridge     no fort lee for me tonight
    no jersey in my shores     just me     the good old digital harridan     of sheridan 
    avenue      speaking into a phone     i almost own     or it owns me       
Packingtown Review – Vol.7, Winter 2015/2016

Urayoán Noel is the author of the critical study In Visible Movement: Nuyorican Poetry from the Sixties to Slam (University of Iowa Press) and several books of poetry in English and Spanish, including the forthcoming Buzzing Hemisphere Rumor Hemisférico (University of Arizona Press). Originally from San Juan, Puerto Rico, he lives in the Bronx and teaches at NYU.

  1. Caroline Kenworthy
    Spinal Psalmpoetry