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Jacket 21 — February 2003   |   # 21  Contents   |   Homepage   |  Catalog   |

Lynne Hjelmgaard

Ten poems

from ‘Manhattan Sonnets’ (after Edwin Denby)

Cut-up Manhattan in even squares
With chalk, numbers to jump, hop
Double skip wide, don’t cheat be fair
’Til pavement equals clear, hard stop
Early from school in cloudy gloom
Walk by the playground, thunder speaks
Then safe at home, the afternoon
Collects the city, yellow leaves
Stuyvesant Oval’s fountain fresh
N. Y.’s thrust floats, a fine spray
One leaf points to rain, then unrest
Wither on avenue, nature’s play
Some left green late in the year
Chestnut, maple, feel them near


Wet leaf on glass smells brown, kiss
Air, window, my lips cherry moist
Spread wide over courtyard, this
Dark ghost town, hurricane’s choice
Radio reports school is off
Strong-willed storm corners the coast
In my bed safer than New York
With trip to Mars book, I’m engrossed
Lights in building beset, fuse blown
Eye is over us veering north
Manhattan’s in-doors, weather shows
Cyclone center, blue heaven’s berth
Wind increases young girl’s delight
City day I know echoes night


Outside the fence is litter on the grass
I walk by wooden benches
Smoke from trucks and buses  
Cars rising on the overpass
Our side of the river has rotten eels
Broken piers and seagull crap
Smokestack’s burning long gray pipes
Scorched metal, shining wheels
Inside the playground are cool sprinklers
Monkey bars, black rubber balls
Barechested men wear gloves on the court  
Wind on water boys run together
The first time they stare
And curls are pretty in my hair


A Brooklyn neighborhood reads backwards
Grandma Mary’s paper prints Yiddish
Real when black phone rings in Fifty’s
Tone, sofa like boiled cabbage sags
Esther calls, they meet, work, sew on
Machines, daily labor, coffee breaks
The Bronx subway’s up one block
Sunday noon our meal, T.V. late
A cool autumn’s Saturday, wide
Enough from the roof, New York’s
Mary admires the Presidents —
And the moon, proud country forged —
Snores in the living room from the couch
Grandma’s teeth in a jar, empty mouth


Dear pets on dirt path, salamanders
Skedaddle alive in thicket, before
Crunched tails with flip flops, my camp
Torment for weeks, but I endure
Curfew at 9, a bat in cabin scare
We run, joke, hide under beds
Far from gritty streets to share
The U.S. flag our morning pledge
Early a.m. swim a body shakes
By side of dock, counselor’s choice
I jump feet first, dive down, hate
Then pass a test, lose towel, voice
Firelight’s spell, taps are running late
At twilight, summer’s subtle veer


With cool dude on lower East Side
First date in the Park, hold cigarette
Don’t know how to, Joe demonstrates
In Italian, want to be cooler, me    
At his house off Delancey & Broom
I’m shy in knee socks, unaware
Sofa bed folds out, takes the room
Me later, body tender in Square
One night sick with fever, but I call
His mother, Sorry Joe ain’t here
Take bus downtown to no avail
Not words or note, just bruising air
I can’t give in, go back, move forward
A child put off, who won’t be spurned


In run-away note to Kitty and Paul
At seventeen, leave Fourteenth street
To hide in suburbs at friend’s house
Toothbrush, shirt, my painted jeans
Wait for him Penn Station floor
Stink of urine and greasy food
Next to homeless looking bored
In Lincoln tunnel, New York I lose
Eat, tv, good grass, lawns
His mom’s not home, we fuck, her bed
Sure of nothing but Lennon’s songs  
Don’t let me down, Imagine instead
Isn’t it a pity, parents insane
Call home from booth, tears, rain


March in groups, smoke campus grass
Cheat in physics, speed to get through
On news watch Kent U students shot
And heroes in Nam who don’t last
First time see horizon swell
Down Jersey scene, twilight alone
Garden state turnpike is aglow
The lunge of sirens, rubber smell
Cops in the dorm make us face wall
Guns in holster, middle of lawn
Friends disappear or picked for war
They let me slip, stoned at dawn
Pigs shave boyfriend’s head in jail
The next day out, parents make bail


Madman throws lady through window
At Martin’s bar, she bleeds on pavement
Downstairs sirens, police say whores
Martin helps, he pockets our rent
Later, woman on stoop is left, doped
Screams dickhead will pay with life
Yells at Sixth avenue, then a door
Dazed, our entrance she holds a knife
At dawn male cat brings dead mouse
His horny whine, hormonal stink
Permeate loft, floor, mattress, our
Toilet, dishes in bathroom sink
Win or lose, a lover’s cry
Rattles those that do survive


Deep on Long Island shores, he
Work off-books as foreign roofer
At Lenny’s house, alone in room
First time he asks and I refuse
Back home pay rent at Martin’s bar
Walk to work from Flower district
Sleep on floor, use candlelight
Our neighborhood deli, honking cars
Christmas sprinkle, city snow
New York’s close tonight, friends dance
See face in dream, don’t let go
A million, a one unseeable chance
To know a person out, in
Secrets has, this lover I find

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