You, Very Young, in New York
You, Very Young, in New York - Hannah Sullivan
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You, Very Young, in New York
Rosy used to say that New York was a fairground.
‘You will know when it’s time, when the fair is over.’
But nothing seems to happen. You stand around
On the same street corners, smoking, thin-elbowed,
Looking down avenues in a lime-green dress
With one arm raised, waiting to get older.
Nothing happens. You try without success
The usual prescriptions, the usual assays on innocence:
I love you to the wrong person, I feel depressed,
Kissing a girl, a sharpener, sea urchin, juice cleanses.
But the senses, laxly fed, are self-replenishing,
Fresh as the first time, so even the eventual
Sameness has a savour for you. Even the sting
When someone flinches at I love you
Is not unwelcome, like the ulcer on your tongue
Whetted on the ridges of a tooth.
And when he slams you hard against the frame,
The pore-ticked sallow bruise seems truer
Than the speed, the spasm, with which you came.
So nothing happens. No matter what you try,
The huge lost innocence at which you aimed
Recedes like long perspectives, like the sky
Square at the end of Fifth whitening at dawn
Unseen, as you watch the unlit cabs go by
All summer the park smelled of cloves and it was dying.
Now it is Labour Day and you have been sleeping through a rainstorm,
Half aware of the sewage and frying peanut oil and the ozone
Rising in the morning heat, and the sound of your roommate hooking the chain,
Flipping ice cubes into a brandy balloon, pouring juice over them,
Ruby Sanguinello, till they giggle, popping their skins. The freezer throbs.
He has been beating a man he met on Craigslist, he has been dreaming:
Old New York, a James novel, a Greenwich Village Christmas,
A certain kind of frost in the Meatpacking District, and the smell of the
Dull with the tang of freezing blood beside the skip of the Hudson wind.
You have been thinking of the building opposite at night, the lights
Going off one by one, a diminished Mondrian, one ochre square
Where a woman undresses for the city, stroking her puffy thighs.
You hear him talking on the phone about you, his ‘petite innocente’.
All summer you have been eating peaches from the greenmarket.
Overripe in September they need to rest in the icebox, sitting with their bruises.
All summer you have been dreaming of Fall and its brittle confection of
Lying awake in the fat pulse of November rain, as the bond market falls
And the art market gets nervous, starts to freeze up, and hipsters
Keep on trying to sell huckleberry jam from Brooklyn and novelists
Keep on going to Starbucks to craft their sagas, adjusting their schemas,
Picking like pigeons at the tail of the morning croissant,
As the bartenders figure out the winter cocktail lists, telling each other
That Cynat, grapefruit bitters, and a small-batch Mezcal will
Be trending in the new year, even though guests are still going to be wanting
Negronis at weddings, gin and tonics on first dates, Manhattans before
Moving upstairs, away from the camera phones, on illicit business…
Schramsberg ’98 is working well for Caitlin in the nouveau Bellini.
Jed crafts a drink from porter, coffee rum, and Brachetto d’Acqui,
It can only be written in Chinese but is ordered as ‘the vice grip’,
Its taste is whipped cream and kidneys, beer bitter and honeyed.
He makes it for the girl in leathers with a face like the Virgin Mary.
You are listening to Bowie in bed, thinking about the hollows
Of his eyes, his lunatic little hand jigs, longing for Berlin in the seventies.
You are thinking of masturbating but the vibrator’s batteries are low
And the plasticine-pink stick rotates leisurely in your palm,
Casting its space-age glow into the winter shadows.
Moving in the bathroom at Christmas, plucking your eyebrows, shaving,
(On Friday Trinh will be back and you will take two Advil and lie
On a table in Chelsea holding yourself open, ‘stretch it’ she says,
Irritably sometimes, and ‘stretch’ as lavender wax wells
Voluptuously in hidden places, and ‘turn’ as you kneel on all fours
So she can clean you up behind and, still parting you open, her fingers
Spend one moment too long tissuing off the dead wax with almond oil and
‘All done’ she pats, producing hot towels); then moving lightly
Over the floor, taking medicines with last night’s overnight-out
Brackish water in a coffee mug: taking a levothyroxine, half a Lexapro,
Some vitamins to ward off colds, one to reduce PMS, some other crap
You bought in a basement discount store with a cold, last Monday,
From a man who thought you might be low in magnesium, he said this
While eating vegan candy from a ripped-out pack snatched
From his own counter. Then the weighing, the exhalation on the scales,
A finger callipering for fatness, a finger slipping in to check the cervix –
And walking out of the house into a world overwhelmed with rain and light
At more than capacity, so the taxi drivers are only in the middle lane
And the rose sellers have stayed home.
Evening comes without seeing light again. Between you and a window:
The beige Lego-maze of offices, people whose names you don’t know.
You should be addressing inefficiencies in online processes,
Mastering multichannel, getting serious about small business,
You have created a spreadsheet with thirteen tabs,
The manager is giving you hell, ordering sushi, cancelling cabs.
The senior partner calls from Newark, ‘Thanks team,’ (his thin
Voice purrs, he is sipping something), ‘lets make it a win-win.’
But in the morning, brushing his new teeth, looking out into the snow’s
Huge act of world-effacement, its lethargy, he knows:
Things are illiquid, freezing up. Light is abortive
On the greyscale Park. It’s time to short the fucking market.
In Chennai, meanwhile, a man is waiting for your analysis,
Eating his breakfast of microwaved dal and mini-idlis,
Checking the cricket scores on his computer, reading Thoreau,
Wondering what New York looks like at night, in snow.
He is applying to Columbia, NYU Stern, and Stanford GSB.
He thinks of going abroad as an attempt to live deliberately,
Imagining the well-stacked fires in iron-fenced Victorians,
The senior partner’s grace under pressure, his Emersonian
Turn of phrase, the summers spent sailing, the long reaches
Of sand loosely threaded with grass on Cape Cod beaches.
Excerpt from Three Poems (Faber, 2018), © Hannah Sullivan 2018, used by permission of the author and the publishers, Faber & Faber Ltd and Farrar, Straus and Giroux.