Alicia Ostriker
March 2016



 

THE LIGHT


City which not to look upon would be like death.
                                                -E.B. White

What is the birthplace of the light that stabs me with joy     
and what is the difference between avocados sold on the street
by a young man conceived in Delhi and avocados sold

in the West Side Market by cornrow girls, I am anyhow afloat
in tides of Puertorican, Cuban, Mexican, Westindian Spanish, wavelets of Urdu
swelling like oceans, sweating like jackhammers, rasping like crows, calling out

in the West Side Market, the Rite Aid, and every other shop on the street
Porque no comprendes, you don’t own this city any more
the city belongs and has always belonged to its shoals of exiles

foaming and crashing ashore in salty droplets, como no, gringita—
with their dances and their grandmothers, with their drinking and their violence
and their burning yearning to be free, and smelling money, what, what is the joy

is it those lamps of light those babies in their strollers
those avocados with their dark-green pebbled rinds, shining from inside
two for four dollars in the West Side Market, and three for four dollars from the cart

joy like white light between the dollar bills, is it these volleys of light fired
by ancestors who remember tenements, sweatshops, the war,
who supposed their children’s children would be rich and free?