Harbor Lights

I’m coming home through the red lacquered lobby,
corridors the bitter green of ginkgo
marred by the transoms’ milky light.

I am sixteen and the room’s three-fifty a night
in the Chinese hotel on Water Street,
and I’ve been out again to the grocery

where they sell cigarettes, one for a dime,
and to look at the stone face
in the shop window. I’m calling her

the angel, the mother of angels, and chiseled
upon the marble of her face is a veil
so thin it isn’t stone at all

but something that emerges out of her chill dreaming.
It’s like watching your mother sleep,
minutes after you have been conceived,

and her closed eyes say it’s all right
to wake alone, almost at evening, in a city hotel
where all night from the room next door

comes the sound, I swear, of chopping.
It’s the room of the old woman
the men at the desk call Mama, and the best

I can imagine is that she’s working late
for the café down the block,
cleaving celery, splitting the white

and acid green of bok choi. All day
she’ll wash the floors in the halls,
hissing to herself in sounds I imagine

are curses, damning the residue of the streets
the residents track all night
onto the speckled constellations

of the linoleum. She scrubs until it’s flawless
as black water off the piers down the block,
until the floors gleam green under the window

where RESIDENTIAL shimmers, watery electric
shantung blossoms over and over
two stories above the street.

Nights like this, when it’s raining
and the chill seems almost visible,
coming in across the Sound and the waterfront’s

rambling warehouses, the radiator pronounces,
almost exactly, my mother’s name.
Then the pipes with their silver garlands

sing runaway. I’ve taken the pill I bought
on the corner, where someone’s always reciting
the litany of an impossible future:

Purple Doubledome, Blue Microdot, Sunshine.
I’m waiting for the flowers in the cracked linoleum
to twist and open, scrubbed into blossom,

waiting for the harbor lights
to burn—the night caught in my hotel window
like a piece of film in a projector,

melting, so that light comes searing out of the darkness
first as boiling pinpricks, then a whole angel.
What I’ve bought is nothing, aspirin

or sugar, but I don’t know that,
and I’m waiting to come on. It’s raining harder,
the knife in the next room striking

the block, the glass beading up
and then erasing itself, shimmering the lights,
and the stone face around the corner

dreams her way out of the world
of appearances behind her window,
her glaze of rain, her veil.

:: Mark Doty, Bethlehem in Broad Daylight (1991)

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