Crossing Tecumseh Street by Earl S. Braggs


Earl S. Braggs' Crossing Tecumseh Street is lively, vocal, and laced with an intelligent sense of humor. I enjoyed these poems. I am going to share some of them with my poetry workshop which meets this afternoon. -- Billy Collins

"For the sake of a single poem, you must see many cities, many people and things," Rilke advises, and in Crossing Tecumseh Street, Earl Braggs does that and more as he takes us on his time machine of a book through several dozen cities and places where characters from history, literature, pop culture and fiction intersect like a maze of city streets to form a unique and visionary location. But he doesn't stop there, where most poets would be content, for this is an important book that explores the self, and the country that too often tries to suppress the self. Powered by an incantatory rhythm in the tradition of Whitman and a lyricism in the tradition of Toomer, Braggs uses the events of history as metaphors for the self's larger visions. Playing off complex interpenetrations of presence and absence, here and there, now and then, he discovers, finally, "you walk always in the wrong direction until / you are soaked // into realizing there is no need to disappear." Both historian and prophet, Braggs takes us across Tecumseh Street into a world of dazzling visions, enormous disappointments, and guarded hopes. I don't think there's another poet today who could give us all this. -- Richard Jackson


The City (A Thousand Taxis at Every Light, an All Night Movie)

New York City, New York

As upon arrival of a late flight, last night I drifted in
out of the fog. Yes, I am a standard stranger, wearing
a standard October shirt. Here, take my arm,

walk with me. It's midnight in midtown Manhattan.

On this corner of Broadway and West 65th, there's a man
on this side of the moon dressed in a skyline blue dress
inches shorter than his thirty year class reunion
high school prom night dirty white tuxedo jacket

two sizes too small for his crowded classroom rendition,
Street level Astronomy 101. This man sells exactly
what the sign says he sells, two dollar kaleidoscope looks

at a metrospective moon. Soon

is a not so orange neon OPEN ALL NIGHT light, blinking
Alice, Alice, Alice, Alice Underground Bar and Grill.

Now let me tell you, sadly. This is me and my gypsy passion
of separation. All of my life I practiced the science
of leaving.
I don't want to end here, so I'll begin here.

What you've heard is true. Up and down this and that
street, in dark theatres, lovers and non-lovers sit
watching this, an all night movie in this,
an all night town. Inside and outside, NYPD

is dizzy turning channels, rerunning primetime
TV real life cop drama. The picture show does not know.

NYPD pays little attention to me, the man, the movie
or the circle size moon. I know what Pink Floyd said

but there's no darkside to a taxi ride in this city tonight.

Meters keep running, you don't want to say "Keep the change,"
yet you do with one foot on the pavement. Get out,

walk fast, talk fast, stroller disturb the pace. Every
race is a green to red color change. Keep it. If

morning ever comes, we'll have breakfast with Capote
at Tiffany's.

The wind is level now and I, with sudden empty hands
feel the temperature dropping herself around my heart. Into
the fazed faces I focus. On this avenue, everyone
is famous as Andy Warhol painting Jacqueline Kennedy

as a measurement of style and fashion cratered
carelessly in full reflected round light beaming blue everything

about this man, his less than perfect fitting
dress, his less than evenly placed eyeliner, his more than
audible astrological repeating

"I'm not from here, never would be, I'm from Lunar City, Baltimore."

"I'm not from here, never would be, I'm from Lunar City, Baltimore."

From some other place, I, too, wish I could be
but my heart lets me know all too well, I'm
from nowhere, now. Listen, New York City the only city
in the world where you can buy an $8,000 Rolex watch
for 8 Dollars no tax. Listen

do you hear the mad music playing? Garage bands
are banging in basements and cellars. Sidewalks
crowded, overly so, are striking up struts to the steps
of foreign made subway shoes. Big Apple City blues

and rhythm that does not rhyme with anything
that does not ring cellular. "Everybody is talking to somebody,
I don't hear a word they're saying." The Village Voice

is a red newspaper box. George Washington is a bridge.
Hudson is my name. East is a river, and Manhattan

is a dead-Indian-transit-authority-transit-trail of years, a transit trail
of feather walking tears. What you've heard is true.

Downtown Beirut is a barbed wire bar at one-five-eight
1st Avenue. They say when you get caught in between
the moon and this new vertical velocity, the best
that you can do is fall in love. I have, but

there's a hole in my love and I have fallen through.
I try not to think of you as I stand, waiting

in line to pay for my kaleidoscope moon. Soon

is the insane argument of streets that do not care
that the walk-light says "Don't."

There she goes again, that girl walking sideways
like an Egyptian. Maybe it is her, maybe it is
Vivian Leigh or maybe it's
Elizabeth Taylor at seventeen, the Queen of the Nile.

Or maybe it's just me and my gypsy passion, separating
what I see from what I think I see

here in this place where every moment tells her own story
differently from the way it was told yesterday
and the day before yesterday.

In the whole of America, this is "The City" and
these moon dancing weirdos, Negroes, Jew Knows,
Kimonos, Gambinoes, ATMXOS and who knows and
you knows are the gods and goddesses and gothams

of this New Amsterdam still a Van Gogh Dutch yellow
taxi cab mistress,
but not for the Duke of York but mostly
for the Duke of Dow Jones and Nasdaq. Yes

because momentarily I am happy here among so many
lives poured into the moment, take my arm, walk
with me. Let me explain. Nothing in this town is typical

except "The City" attitude and that Frank Sinatra-Billy Joel
state of mind.
It's noisy, it's dirty, it's expensive, people are rude,
traffic is impossible. Cabs are everywhere all at once,

you can't get one unless you don't need one.
It's easier to find your way around than to know
where you are going.

This is the city of too many good restaurants, it's hurried,
it's dangerous, it's crazy, insane but you know what,
it's the most visited city in the world.

Where did Greta Garbo go when she wanted to be alone,
away from the holy and the good. What you've heard
is true. JFK ain't nothing but an airport Ellis
Island which, in fact, can still be reached via
Circle Line Ferry. Coney Island is still a hotdog

and a ferris wheel spinning out of purpose.
Saks Fifth Avenue is still on 5th Avenue and

the Empire State Building is still the tallest building
in the world, at least in spirit. I need a bottle

of cognac spirit. I'm caught in between. It's midnight
in Manhattan and the moon's full like a quarter
newly minted. This is just me returning

to that old delinquent thrill of us trying to find
what's lost.

There goes another Jean Harlow, another Batman and Robin
holding hands, another Marilyn easy as Norma Jean,

another James Dean subway poster taped to a wall
on Wall Street and yes on this very corner

of Broadway and 65th, this man is selling the moon.
Soon is a simple sign in Central Park "Jog
At Your Own Risk." Strawberry Fields is a forever rendition
for John, Paul, George, and Ringo.

Times Square is over there waiting for another year
to change her underwear in full view of the world.

The Met is meeting Weegee not for lunch in black and white
photography existing only in available black and white light tonight.

Madison Avenue crosses only three streets, J. Paul
Getty, J. P. Morgan, and John D. Rockefeller Blvd.

The Garment District is in China on a red vacation.

Labels are stamped "Not Made in the USA." Few
question the cotton content or the consent of children.

Over there, look, that's the Dakota Apartment House
One West 72nd Street.
Do not bother to knock. John Lennon is dead. Red
marks the spot.

The Flatiron Building is rounded at the corners.
Bloomingdale's is still open at this hour. I need
some Italian made American shoes. Real real estate
is Trump Plaza, New Jersey. Take a yellow cab.

"How can you sell the air," yells the sacred voice
of Chief Seattle. On this corner
this man is selling the moon. In my hand,

I have two dollars. Maybe tomorrow I'll catch a ballgame.

The Mets are playing the Atlanta Indians at Shea.
The Cleveland Braves are in town, looking to hear
that smack of a radio 9th inning game winning homerun. But

the grounds for burial have been covered up and the voice
can only be seen in what once was Yankee Stadium,
the house that Ruth built with a bat and some baggy baseball pants.

On the other side of the story, Yankee man, CEO and CFO,
George S. paid cash for the State of Cuba. That makes 51.
Castro doesn't give a damn. He's up in Harlem smoking a Havana
preaching at the Abyssinian Baptist

Adam Clayton Powell is turning over in that same ground
for burial. A site not to be seen. "Why" marks the grave.
Galileo is a Saturday night drag queen. The moon is full,

the constellations must be tired by now. It's enough

to make you want to dance around a rose bush. Garth Brooks
gave a free concert in the park, central to all but

it was HBO Pay-Per-View in Nashville, Tennessee. Look
at me with two dollars in my hand. Look at the moon,
look at the man. It's a slick trick of logic, a lapse,

a momentary lapse of realism, another brick in the wall.
Another Pink Floyd song.
"Teachers leave those kids alone. We don't need no education."
We live in New York City.

They say "If you can make it here" in this city where
it's easier to find your way around than to know where
you are going, "You can make it anywhere." I don't know

about that, I just know I don't want to end here

in this city that never sleeps, last night, from the view
of every hotel I've ever checked out of, 15 and ½
stories of vertical fiction above the level of taxi cab

I watched this city, this Statue of Liberty,
take down her crown and sleep stubborn as a child,

twisting and turning, waxing and waning full the scope
of this all night movie, this New York City Marathon moon.

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