Poetry: City on the Hudson by Lee Jenkins
“The evening’s firmly knitted into place,” Lee Jenkins says, and so is his music, so are the quiet voices and the quiet world that envelops them. “City on the Hudson” is a hand holder, a friend’s diary, a gentle and humble intimacy that only asks for the space to be and breathe and share.
City on the Hudson
Dawn breaks like a spasm
across the room. My mind wheels
about face, flits over towers of Manhattan,
returned from its dream-freighted cavern.
She’s silenced the ringing, quick-limbed.
I struggle awake, spurred by her morning
preparations: a glimpse out the window
as she clothes for the yoga and the jogging,
then the splat pizzicato of some feet
as a child leaps upon me in greeting.
Caught in an embrace, I forsake my sleep.
He jostles and jokes me to the shower.
Then, in short order, the dog barks their
way back from jogging—
we descend on the day within an hour.
Something’s incarnate at the breakfast table,
sustenance and set familiar faces,
permanence of place, a fervor that accentuates
Our merging of the races.
as a matter of health, as her state indicates,
I refer to her ruddiness or pallor, her “whiteness”
is a something in the eyes of others.
My nut-brown’s reflected in her eyes, sea green
contours of the way I would be seen,
a caressing and stilling of the mind.
In him we are subtly revealed:
a bronze glint on pearl,
a storm-cloud of curls—
he eats with his hands, our own little earl,
golden limbs raised in a blessing.
On the Upper West Side of Manhattan
there’s an atmosphere of calm intermingling.
The spirited Hudson shimmers like a wide furrowed plain.
Riverside Park’s a meadow by the sea
where the whole world comes to do its picnicking,
tracing a time-warp from Kenya to Peking.
It seems a kind of existential home
like—seen from outer space—planet Earth’s blue dome,
a nurturing of multitudinous life forms.
We three’ve settled comfortably into place.
good fortune and fulfillment on our jobs
sheathe the delicate foliage of our hope,
the heart-pang of won-over grandparents,
affronts that quell the vestiges of hope.
So the sunlight fills the room with morning light,
sunlight in our eyes, on our faces, that blinds,
fervent like an insight or the origin of life,
such beauty of such faces in a nexus that binds.
- A Subway Ride
not the claiming for one’s body
of one’s own communal space,
the know-how of maneuvering into place
or the impress of some spirit in the flesh,
unwelcomed, unopposed, breath to breath…
but the inescapable imprint
of the closure of the self,
an agent rendered separate and distinct
conscious of a need for human links
conscious that one ends where he begins—
sealed off, like strangers in embrace.
- At Work
“The strident trains that speed the goaded mass”
disgorge me with a herd of kindred souls.
There’s ample time to stroll my way to class,
a black, composed, who’s forsaken overalls
in tie, briefcase and sport coat,
a look both grateful and smug.
Birmingham, and sit-ins, and even Malcolm X
seem rumors of the past, or bedrock,
shoring up return of the repressed:
the alms-grasping hands are mostly black.
The frightful insane and sprawling shapes
that we pass, cease to even shock.
We’re productive and happy in our fortress.
Plato and Faulkner keep their sinecures,
arraign the dreaming pupils at their desks.
Harried mediators in androgynous slacks, we assure
the continuity of the past, insinuate a precedent
for present unrest, the hunger for knowledge
or the good life—hubris and sin and impoverishment.
The melting pot’s an overflowing cauldron,
a collage, across the walls of college,
and smugness—and privilege—mix with poverty.
Yet all seem underprivileged, like actors
forced to improvise their parts, divested of sovereignty,
laced into the current cultural harness.
They angle for preferment, a shrewd horde of novices,
shadowed by futures of interest rates and mortgages—
the professors, possessors of doctorates,
humanists, empiricists, lovers of any kind of Lit. (and
a cadre of hard-working adjuncts)
learned attendants to icons of wisdom and artistry.
“Good morning,” (or evening) I say,
greeted by a corps
of watchful faces, illumining
our station, linking our paths.
Here something can be made
of the racial morass, submerged hatreds,
unkempt allusions to class in class, upholding
a tradition of fairness and forbearance
and the lodging of the other in the head.
The professor’s a black and a man
able to signify by nothing at all
the entrenched metaphor of a caste,
and women, blond or brown-skinned,
must confront, no different from the men,
the secret hidden portion of themselves in him.
We talk about essays and stories
elucidate comma splices, theses and poetry
with a fervor after work that surprises
for tired adults in evening classes.
There’s trust in Shakespeare and the teacher they see,
antiquated faith in the bachelor’s degree.
- A Dinner Party
On weekends or days after work,
evenings every three or four months
we dine with guests, attending the comforts
of wine and good talk, a thick roast of beef,
in a consecrated clutch of swelling egos
launching jaunty skiffs through the barrier reef
of heady conceit, displaced promptings of Eros.
We down our drinks like traders in gold.
Everyone feels more than blessed than most,
discussing disparities of the ideal self and appearance:
not to know one is not one’s image,
a silk shirt covering up a blemish.
The women hold forth against the men
arguing the might of the feminine.
The men are subversive in quick, reasoned, face-saving feats.
The laughing aggregation makes a ruckus in its sea.
Eyes are gazing out of round-barreled pupils,
the irises ablaze, compressing the black holes,
strange in one’s gaze, calm like the eyes of hurricanes,
recordings of the temper of the brain.
At the head of the table is a long-limbed
brown-skinned black man, image of the souls of black men,
historical update on the charred thing swaying in the dim
morning light and the haunting evocation of the spirituals.
He seems a man acquainted with extremes.
The soft leveling brown of his eyes and skin
are registerings, courtly insinuations,
of the room’s egalitarian demands,
framed by the table’s black and white book ends,
comforting seductions of a yearning
to bring the world’s dissensions to an end.
The host makes comment on worthiness, ambition,
the sky must know us as it knows the trees,
so tenderly holds, the rooted outreaching branches
and endlessly betrays, like the scattering of leaves.
He reaches for the wine, moistening his lips.
The room sighs in concert as it sips—
and the two at table’s ends
engage with eyes that glisten.
- Day’s End
One collects the dishes, one scrapes the plates,
puts away edibles and feeds
the other’s washing in the sink
as the dishwasher whirls its accompaniment.
The evening’s firmly knitted into place.
like over-filled vessels
the gaze of each reflects the other’s face.
Hands hint a mood of being held
whether or not the thought, that moment, was real.
She meets him, extending a limb,
perhaps an invitation or fulfillment all the same,
as the satiny darkness filters the blinds,
a space into which they alight
weaving their pattern by streetlight.
Lee Jenkins is a psychoanalyst in private practice and a professor emeritus at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY. He received his PH.D. in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University and his psychoanalytic training at the National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis (NPAP). He is currently a supervisor and training analyst at NPAP and other psychoanalytic institutes. He has written on literature, psychology, and race relations. He is the author of Faulkner and Black-White Relations: A Pyschoanalytic Approach (Columbia University Press, 1981). In September 2018, his novel, Right of Passage, was published by Sphinx Books in the U.K. and is available at Amazon.com. His practice is on Manhattan’s Upper West Side where he lives with his wife.