Alicia Ostriker

When we came up out of the subway
It was snowing and dark

and the dark silhouettes
of shoppers moved to and fro

festively among the blurred lights
the taxis and buses like slow

undersea creatures
carried snow on their backs

underfoot it was turning to slush
we were not defeated

we rejoiced in the snow
the cold truth of unbounded air

a crowd was exiting a church
they too were happy

and a woman walking alone
said “wow” to herself


I’m on my bike in August heat seeking a hardware store,
I need some shelving, I’m a bit afraid of the traffic on Amsterdam,
Later I’ll take the bike path on Riverside Drive. The store not crowded,

Two women stand behind the counter minding their cash registers
in their red apron uniforms. A points to B and says You know
what she did Saturday? She went skinny-dipping.

I have to ask. B looks pleased with herself, says, The Harlem River.
It’s where showoff boys used to dive and we giggling girls used to watch
those bad boys. Times do change. B says, I have to let my bad girl out sometimes,


Walt Whitman enters my dream, grumbling about the century,
his image on no currency, and nobody praising the gloire
of cities except magazines in airplanes

and the travel section of the New York Times.
So let me now praise my famous city,
her devotion to money and power and art

her mayors and their mistresses, her Korean neighborhoods,
her Pakistani taxis, her Afro-American subway system,
her steel drum musicians, laden shoppingbags, perfect

for staring at people while sinking into invisibility, oh divine
hot women, cool men, weary waitresses and nurses
guys off-shift, I follow boots to street, I watch this boy,

he is off the boat, he is thinking food and freedom, he is sending
money back home, it is so easy, there is a bank
on every corner of the Upper West Side

he is a little high, so when the officer detains him,
he is slow producing his I.D. Fuck. Fuck.
Watch his hands, watch the cop’s fast hands.

Alicia Ostriker’s most recent book of poems is The Old Woman, the Tulip, and the Dog. Her most recent critical book is For the Love of God: the Bible as an Open Book. Ostriker grew up in New York, left at eighteen, and is now living there again–at last. She teaches in the low-residency MFA program in Poetry and Poetry in Translation at Drew University.

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