In my "Memoir of an Unsuccessful Prostitute"
I questioned what was it like to be nineteen
in New York City in 1957, fresh from northern
Michigan farmland, looking for sex and food?
First of all the edges of buildings were sharp
and if you walked around a corner too close
to them you could cut yourself. Even though it
was summer the daylight was short and when it
was hot you sweated inward. You walked the streets
as a shy elephant who within the cruelty
of his neurons had conceived a love of women.
A black woman said you were too white,
and a white woman said you were too brown.
Another said you were a red Indian "how
exciting." You became very thin and fell asleep
beside fountains, on park benches, in the library
where they roused you with a shake. Pigeons
avoided you as a breadless monster. The circus women
paid you in used popcorn, their secret currency.
The beatnik girl paid you with crabs who tugged
at the roots of your eyebrows, your tiny friends.
Late one night the moon split in pieces
and you could see two yellow shards at the ends
of forty-second street where a herring sandwich
was a quarter, Italian sausage fifty cents.
The drug of choice was a Benzedrine inhaler
plus three beers after which you jumped over the hood
of an approaching taxi with your invisible pogo stick.
You hitchhiked the trail of a letter from a girl back home
and New York City became more beautiful
with each mile west.