The Lovely Redhead

Frederick Seidel

In the coloured section of St Louis, back
When life was white and black,
I’m skimming the modest rooftops in a stolen black Cadillac,
Which happens to be my father’s, and I fly too high,
And wake up in my bed this morning wondering why
I’m an old white man in bed in 2012 in Manhattan
Not next to a lovely redhead whose skin is satin.
Pardon me if I grab the remote before I open my eyes.
They’re going to televise
One World Trade Center’s rise
While the Empire State Building stands there and practically dies
And the Chrysler Building cries.
The tallest building in the world this morning is Dubai’s.
Get over it, guys. Say your goodbyes.

Jabbering jackhammers talk their way into my teeth
As I exit from my dentist’s office.
Every street in New York, it seems, is being dug up.
Every day in New York flaps like a stork over streets
Giving birth. Almost every building in Manhattan
Is swaddled with scaffolding while inspectors check
For stuff that might fall off. Incidents
Involving some poor schmuck
On the sidewalk getting smushed lead to city contracts.
Somebody the city likes
Is making big bucks. This is about a smartphone
Surrounded by so much noise
It isn’t able to.
No one is getting out of this alive.

No one was celebrating noise
Until the great homosexual American composer John Cage
Discovered the great American sound of road rage,
But with no automobile involvement, and lots of silence.
It’s the roar of a subway car
Filled with silent New Yorkers silently snapping their fingers
To the beat coming out of an earbud in one ear,
And music they’re hearing that we the audience can’t hear.
They rise from their seats all at once and start to dance.
Music turns people into this and
Noise keeps turning into New York.
A drive-by-shooting shout is rap, the rhyming slave-rebellion app.
I sing of noise.
I sing in praise.

The greatest city in the world is like
The prostate in a normally ageing man,
Constantly enlarging in some new direction.
The metropolitan prostate
Continues to grow, which to be sure can block the flow.
As soon as a funky neighbourhood starts to grow and glow,
The real estate developers move in and really annoy.
They slaughter buildings like livestock.
But good things happen nevertheless.
The Meatpacking District is only the latest.
The Red Rooster restaurant in Harlem is so chic.
Let’s sneak a peek.
In summer, there are tables outside.
Blacks and whites, young and old, eat side by side.

This has been the warmest Manhattan
Since temperatures have been recorded,
And the Hudson and the East River continue to rise,
Along with the civilisation they are part of –
And the rents in the East Village,
And the number of restaurants.
This island is a toupee
Of towers, floating away.
Don’t drown in your rivers, not yet.
Maybe five hundred years from now, not now.
My smartphone works in the noise but can’t hear,
But doesn’t want to be anywhere but here. What a shock!
Or as they used to mock in the Manhattan D.A.’s office,
No shit, Sherlock!

A crocodile twenty feet long at least,
With a human leg and foot sticking out of its mouth,
Is basking in the sun in Bryant Park
Right behind the New York Public Library.
I was coming out of the dentist’s office on Fifty-fifth near Fifth.
I am always.
I have a call coming in on the other line –
Let me put you on hold.
This is he. I can’t hear you.
Inside the nearby Museum of Modern Art (MoMA),
The curators are in an induced coma.
The digestive pleasure a crocodile feels is great.
It makes the eaten person sort of swoon.
It makes for quite an afternoon.

I’d rather talk about the weather.
I’d rather talk about which airlines I prefer.
I’d rather talk about my periodontist and my MacBook Air.
Don’t try to talk to me about Guillaume Apollinaire.
Laugh at me if you like, but actually it’s sad.
You people who know, know love is brief and being old is bad,
Know tribal wars devour the world, and little children are starving.
Five million orphans in Ethiopia aren’t riding
Beautiful Italian racing motorcycles to outrun their problem.
Chemotherapy is as brutal as the cancers it doesn’t cure.
Starving children get that look.
I’d rather talk about my London tailor.
I’d rather talk about who makes the lightest luggage with wheels.
The best luggage these days glides along on grease.

Look at me, whizzing through airport security,
A privileged man, a certain age, some hair left,
Taking off my shoes, folding my coat and placing it in a plastic tray,
Computer, wallet, taking my belt off,
Having travelled far and wide, having lived through wars
Without once fighting, having read through libraries
In order to board the flight from here to get
To there. The struggle to leave is futile but
The arrival will be meaningful. Leaving museums behind,
I’m in the security line behind a lovely redhead as she undresses
With me for the X-ray. Let her red hair stand
For everything life is worth.
Her loveliness charms the alarms,
But will the weeds and the wars wilt and wither all around the earth?

I’m on the High Line, goodbye, which in a previous life
Was the elevated railroad track along the Hudson, goodbye,
Brought back to life as a walkway and park to rewrite in.
I’m rewriting my life to make it less accessible, goodbye,
And the parts that rhyme
I’ll bury in lime.
In the street below, but a block away,
Diane von Furstenberg’s stylish wrap dresses are on display.
Who, five hundred years from now, will care or know
About the Meatpacking District or DVF Studio?
The city is dying and living, farewell,
Along with the civilisation it is part of,
And which Diane von Furstenberg is part of the art of,
Once upon a time, long, long ago.