Our Two Front Teeth, or Ode to the Towers

 

They were the masts of the island, crow’s nest, main-sail, top of the wind, they

brokered the sea, bent tall maitre d’s

And though scurvy critics in magazines said good riddance oh modern horror

I saw in ‘em old Melville, shipped from Manhattoe, tossed till tomorrow and tomorrow

 

They were tall New York to me, the waterfront’s watchers

in the tallest of the tall cities sitting on its cloud with its feet in the dirty waters

I went to them just about every day in my boy ways on the piers of Brooklyn

longshores broken and fences open and Flying Dutchmen parked in the seaweed leas

They looked at each other, those piers and those towers and those ships never to sea

 

Coffee in the piersheds, mafia on the salt piles, once there were all manners of goings and comings

languages of no letters, speeches in code and silence, nettings of all new

lands debouching wealth and loss, cocoa, copper, bones, cars, so-longs

and the men, thickets of ragged hair with that look of the sea, of longing and disaster

the gaunt in their eyes, their beards frozen to alabaster 

At Montero’s Bar, they drank and fought, the captains Greek and Argentine cooked in 50 gallon drums

 

But us kids coming much too late for that, our little barque of logs lashed we commandeered

under the pause of dead tankers and ghost freighters to the edge of the flow-tide of the East River

The river lathed north on the bow of the island, Atlantic high, and our skiffing fed

a fantasy, freeze, glees, the witching water bound for Hell Gate.   And the towers watched all we did

until wine-colored came the voice of the muezzin of the ferries to Staten Island and the oil of the ebb

 

In fog, tops chopped, rain walls over the bay, the towers sometimes ladder’d to a white tossed heaven

the blue of the foghorns and buoys lost, and suddenly the city was small

and tiny metals, the market bulls, had no place, solid rays

held the dreaming, the dump-truck ships, pay-loaded with terns and gulls

paced the sea.   I watch the ships roll in, I watch them roll away again, how many years did I do this

 

Later, older, colder, I went to these, my towers, my New York, and laughed that I’d never get a job in them

though born after their building I cannot imagine the skyline without them –

It is illegible to me today, it is Cleveland now, or Seattle, or anyplace not too small, not so big

And now I have trouble placing them in the sky, was it between the Woolworth and where, from the bridge

was it north or south of the anchorage, or was it this way, that way, was it at all?

 

Vinnie the bartender at Montero’s, half-bookie, half-man, told me the day after, It’s like they knocked

our two front teeth out     Just like New York I bet he bet how long it took them to fall