Monday, January 23, 2012

The solidarity of freedom

In Chinatown, once Little Italy,
Until Marco Polo brought all things foreign
To New York City, I had on its periphery,
Say, Lower Anatolia, an unfurnished
Apartment share with some other editors, actors, and writers,
Not quite a cold-water flat, just a refrigerator (empty)
And a mattress I dragged in off the street
And a pillow I bought and carried across the Village
In winter or something cold like that
And barren – well, the sun wasn’t near.
There were roaches that ran on the lips,
Wide-awake noticing of hurried shapes
Darting, horrid self-slapping, un-sleep.
Follow that without dawn like February,
Cloudy and dark like Dr. Zhivago
During the Revolution, and no palace
Or snow in sunlight, but I was
Hungry and cold and found
A hovel of a Chinese restaurant:
One small room filled with men
In Red Chinese uniforms, slate gray,
Cold, huddling round the few
Connected tables in Amish seating,
In other words, arranged regardless of
Group, one group, all of us having soup.
I settled into one bench, accepted
Without glance or comment, between
Small men whose bodies held their
Warmth on either side to me, and I
To them, and as I hunched closer to the
Leveling table we shared, I felt myself
Resorting to that Peasant memory my father
Transmitted into me from long ago in Europe,
Even as I ate with hurried relish
In the steam of our mingling breath,
It felt like some painting of suffering,
Though all around me there was more
Of it than mine, and more comfort
Because we were all there was of it, together.
For this I thank all of China,
Marco Polo, and the Revolution,
Including mine, in my green Army coat,
And my father, who climbed
From scholarship to engineer, then married
My mother, a landowner and landowner’s daughter,
Then dispossessed by Communists
As these lunch companions in my circle
Perhaps lost their own farm, or freedom,
To the want of history and its resentments.

John Sevcik