Self-Portrait

August Kleinzahler

It was a lost dream, a bridges and heights
and headed home dream, but too long,
far too long and mazey and all the wrong tone.
And then there was that station, so massive,
with its tiers, platforms, girders and steps,
trains rushing through on the express track,
filled to bursting, commuters illuminated,
each face vivid, highlighted – is that you? –
exasperation, fatigue, concern at the time.
But the time was all wrong; it was late,
way late, the station ready to close.
The subways never close, you say, even in dreams:
empty, only rarely if ever a train, but open.
This was no ordinary station, or dream.

You could see Manhattan in the far distance,
big towers beyond the raggedy miles
of tenements, viaducts, frozen playgrounds.
Like the view from the Nor’easter headed south
as it winds its way around the Bronx,
right before it dips down into the tunnel.
But this place would have had to be in Queens.
At the start it was a plane I was headed for,
headed for that morning from quite another town.
This must be the old train to the plane,
the one that lets you off way out by Kennedy.
But that got shut down years ago.
Now I was far from anything, Jersey especially.
I always head back to Jersey in a pinch.

My two suitcases were gone as well, both black,
one large, one small. My shoes too, also black.
There I was, lost, weaving left and right,
pitiful as a bug caught out in the light.
Way down there in the bowels with the gated-up
shoeshine, burger and newsstands, a cop, a drunk.
But a barber shop of sorts still open and lit
and oddly partitioned into three distinct rooms:
one with a man fitting rubber skin skulls
onto mannequin heads; the next a barber
fussily attending to three bald heads;.
the next what could only be a tiny morgue,
but with those very same heads from the barber’s,
only this time like death-masks of Renaissance Popes.

That’s when I ran into this burly black guy,
security or some kind of station chief.
He was short with me for being there but nice enough
and led me on a search for my two bags.
Through horrible rooms: bodies, gunnysacks,
leavings from some old and gruesome jumble sale.
The two lost rooms on earth, I heard myself say.
And still no bags, but when I looked down
there were my shoes, back on my feet again,
except each from a different pair. Odd, that,
but I was plenty glad to have them on,
stuck by myself in the middle of nowhere
with the station shutting down for the night
and who knows what waiting out there in the shadows.

Somehow it had gotten to be dawn.
I found myself standing up to my ankles in weeds
with rusted fenders and a torn down fence.
Manhattan sticking up in the filmy distance.
Lots of birds, planes too, out of Kennedy.
When two ugly-looking kids were headed my way.
Didn’t like how this was shaping up at all.
If I had to bolt the weeds would hold me back.
But they turned out to be sweet, bewildered boys,
in wonderment at my simply standing there.
I believe I had on a flannel shirt, a plaid,
sun igniting the wet, dark smells of earth.
It was all so eerily gentle and strange
I might as well have been Captain Cook in the Marquesas.