To capture the voice of a city as immense and diverse as New York, to write its essence, is a challenge taken on by many resident literati. This aspiration is evidenced upon any stroll through Brooklyn, where it's difficult to go half a block without seeing a coffee shop novelist, rooftop typewriter or park bench poet. The city's allure as inspiration, as a prosaic fountainhead, is undeniable; eight million souls, buffeting like billiard balls amidst 305 square miles of industry. It is a stimulus tantalizing to any writer, yet it can be overwhelming, and very few have the ability to communicate the places' ethos. Poet Michael Tyrell is one of those few.
Tyrell's poems aren't so much depictions of the city as they are eloquent lamentations of the crowded memories and weary unease it renders. The native Brooklyner remains one of my favorite NYC poets, embodying the wounded beauty I've always found the city to possess. You can find and listen to Michael read some his poems below:
The tuxed-up drunk, trembling the dorm's lobby window
when a bottle tipped him over. His squint not at me but past me
to the one hundred keys glittering behind my post,
the check-in desk, where all summer, I worked the Saturday
insomnia shift. The ruse of looking down at the marble notebook,
one-one thousand, then looking up: the drunk gone, like a movie ghost.
The prank caller, the phone a bee-sting sound.
The paper I had to write to undo my grade of "Incomplete,"
something about Eden, something to please my professor.
Tumbling from the nightclub: the samba amateurs,
some still whistling and writhing. Cigarettes cracking balloons.
Like archangels, the narcs patrolling closed Union Square.
Kamikaze, Titanic, Banshee: all the sweet nicknames I knew for heroin.
Saying them, obeying them, to feel the lull. To not feel.
The dancers whose other moves frightened me
nights I worked sober: they trashed themselves;
the place, the park, could be the garden again only if
they vanished. This much I knew about Eden.
And that I wasn't safe: I needed to look outside.
The desk radio refreshed deaths and sped-read
the conditions--traffic and weather--
no obit could overrule.
Early morning the beautiful victim, noon the coroner.
The dancers writhed.
I was born the summer of his disgrace.
That's always been my claim. And it's a trait
I despise in other people: hitching the intensely personal
to the historical, making Watergate a lame pun for
passage and delivery. But my mother
insists on scandal. An unmarried mother, middle-aged--
she swears her pregnancy didn't show, even
that morning she locked herself in the toilet
and told her own mother to call an ambulance.
The phones rang off the hook that day--everyone in the family.
If I wanted to carry this further, I could point out
my mother, like Nixon, could've resigned.
A childless cousin wanted to raise me, a maternal
version of a vice-president. But my mother,
a child of Roosevelt, kept me: four terms of depression
and world war. Like all children, I demanded a
recount, a new election: request denied.
Hostage faces bubbled on the television screen.
When she told me who my father was, I wanted
the mystery back--the speculation traded like
missiles between the family gossips, not a Woodward
or Bernstein among them, Deepthroat a man
on the street they couldn't identify and who
never spoke to them.
I'm stuck again, not bleeding like a stuck pig but waiting
for results in the HMO waiting room, stuck
where praying is more counting than praying.
The mother puts her finger to her small lips, quieting her small boy.
Her small boy locks his lips with the invisible key, drops it to the floor.
Keep your eyes peeled, my mother once told me.
Bug-gut smeared on the leaves of Prevention, the crossword done.
Rolled up my sleeve and made a fist some time ago and soon blood
will have the last word. The whitewashed nurses becoming
the results, any minute, any minute. Not yet. Not for me.
I could pick up the invisible key from the floor. The
waiting room like an audition where hopeful actors go
but there's not a part for everyone, in the future.
I could have a life, I could stop reading pulp crime.
I could adopt some kids and keep them from literature.
Goodnight, moon; goodnight, noises, noises everywhere.
I could worsen: the radio tells who's done for,
weather comes on the ones. At home, I've got pounds of cure,
pounds of prevention. Civic-minded clod,
I've already willed my eyes, no, my
ears. I still know a beautiful word:
Luminol, for the chemical that makes blood glow.
All parts spare parts.
I could stop watching those crime shows.
Lady Macbeth knew what was permanent: evidence.
What a relief not to hear my own blood, surging inside.
Let it stay in, I pray to the Lady of Evidence.
But the shows strangle every channel, the radio
tells who's done for. I'm safe and that means
someone's not. My name comes, the nurses follow.
I could leave the results, not know.
In a tidy home somewhere smelling of bleach
the walls and floors begin to glow.
A tuxedo cat's been haunting my fire escape;
it disturbs me to realize his form is all he is, all he will ever be.
I swear, I could skin him, protect myself from all decoys,
prevent us from meeting, even in dreams, within the same 100 yards,
but no worries, I don't need protection; you follow the law and stay gone,
as maybe you feared last year's blizzards and that's what kept us inside...
all that unrestraint, all that To Be Continued--
now you're just another Where Are They Now?
Fall comes to Dyker Heights and ships in
the smoky nights I need so much, when
every breath mimics carbon monoxide
and the truest word looks combustible.
Michael Tyrell currently teaches writing at NYU. His poems have appeared in Agni, The Paris Review, Ploughshares, and The Yale Review, among others. With Julia Spicher Kasdorf, he edited the 2007 anthology, Broken Land: Poems of Brooklyn. Tyrell is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop.
A full audio interview with Michael Tyrell can be found in Fogged Clarity.
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