Annmarie Lockhart – Four Poems
There is a park in the elbow of the New Jersey Turnpike with a standard
running track tucked inside a figure eight bike path and more tennis courts,
basketball hoops, baseball diamonds, and soccer fields than I can count.
There are kayaks, horses, and a bandshell, and two different areas for
carnivals, ethnic festivals, and exhibits like the semipermanent dinosaurs
and the moving mini Wall. There is a memorial to those who died on 9/11.
I like the monotony of counting laps on the small track, but today I take the
five-mile trek around the figure eight, across the bisecting street, along I-95,
past the view of the western side of the Palisades (named for the sheer cliffs
of its eastern face, not its western slope) and the tallest buildings in New York.
I walk, then jog, but it hurts, this body, this view. I see the new monstrosity
that casts a mile-long shadow over Central Park. It is this era’s most hated
building, like the Twin Towers before it, and for the same reasons: too big,
too ugly, too plain, too boring. This park was built on a landfill and its little hills
are not with me yet, or mostly I am not with them, and I should have counted
quarter-mile laps instead, but I love this path at the edge of a swamp.
None of this was here when I was growing up. There was just the highway
with trash in the crook of its arm and those buildings everyone loved to hate
looming over the world. Overpeck Creek is beautiful now, clean, stocked,
blue; fishermen and birders delight in its bounty.
New York was built on a landfill too, undergirded by bedrock, supporting
skyscrapers instead of pathways. Over the eastern landfill a city soars, over
the western one, herons and kites. Whether the base is swamp or bedrock,
rebuilding over a landfill is not only possible, but possibly preferable to laying
a foundation on virgin land. Layers of life, strata of compressed days reborn,
newborn, stretched out and inched up, taller and more fertile.
It hurts, this body, this view, to see what is no longer here, crumbled, cleared
down to the bedrock, life upon life, dust back to dust, atoms smashed in stardust,
settled over the detritus of hundreds of years (I know, I know, a whisper of time
in ancient tongues, but the longest history we allow in the New World).
I worry a mountain of tasks: Laundry to wash, dry, fold, sort, put away, scrap,
or save, carpet to pull back, floors to refinish, children to fledge, words to write,
miles to walk, run, endure. I am impatient. I want my world rebuilt tomorrow.
But building in life or on landfills doesn’t work like that. Sediment settles, muck
congeals. My lungs and legs will not align, my heart beats erratic and arrhythmic:
tick tock tock tick, tick, skip, hop.
It hurts, this body, this view. Pain is a seamed edge against regrown skin,
a reminder of ghosts, lives laid down among food scraps and old newspapers,
broken glasses and empty gin bottles, books with missing pages, faded photos,
unmatched socks, and rebar, always rebar.
It takes a long time to build a city, a park, a place where herons, kites, words
fly and memory percolates through rock, silt, and soil. Particulate dreams waft
into morning coffee. Vapor-borne toasts float to the heights of the open-eared
clouds. Runoff remembrances remind me: This is just a place built and rebuilt
upon itself in the crook of the elbow of I-95, over a cliff face and across a river,
occupying both sides of the Palisades, salvaged and scavenged from landfills.
Oops. I did it again.
I brought blueberries back from the farm
and prepared them for a pie. I dusted them
with sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, put them
in the refrigerator, where they sweet-crisped
to await their baking.
But my fingers, poised for the release
of cutting shortening into flour, salt, and ice water,
settled instead for the easy payoff.
Plucking one at a time, not from the bush
but from the bowl, I let the ripeness of August
burst each berry from sugar upon my tongue.
I bit through skins, each pop a fingered berry bead
worrying a novena against the short days to come.
It looks like I did it again.
But wouldn’t you have done it too?
Caught between the itch and the tingle
is the pause of a breath, the pulse under the skin
of my throat, his tongue finding mine, the pull
and tug of yes in the new light of the old sun
reflected in sleepless blue-green eyes
(For Cassie, in thanksgiving for Susanne)
Thank you for knowing that blood-
flow and lifeblood would be restored
after the occlusions were cleared.
Thank you for not killing what you could
not feed, for enduring the arid season,
its droughts and famines.
Thank you for trusting in the soft
landing after the free fall, for not fearing
the pull of her beating heart.
Your soulmate, your heartsong, music
to your poems, true north for your wanders,
layered shadow to your light:
She is a gift to you, as you are to her,
but to me as well, and those who
celebrate with you. Ours via osmosis,
like the way I feel Italian. She is math,
order, observance, conscience, so many
gifts none of us would have received
had you not believed.
Author’s Statement on Beauty
Beauty is resilience. It’s the revolution of the earth, the grace of the new year, the homecoming of an odyssey. It’s the edit after creation, the maturation of an idea. It’s the transformation of one thing into another, the refusal of matter to be destroyed. Beauty is a mutable moment and how we attempt, again and again, to convey it, no matter how vain the endeavor.
Annmarie Lockhart is the founding editor of vox poetica, an online literary salon dedicated to poetry, and Unbound Content, an independent poetry press. A lifelong resident of Englewood, New Jersey, she lives, writes, and works two miles from the hospital where she was born. More at: voxpoetica.com