What April in New York is

by Guy Kettelhack
About Poetry Forum
Second Place, May 2008
Judged by Patricia Smith

You take your bony awkwardness into the April day —
too warm for May — and yet the nearly naked trees are
barely March: well, that’s what April in New York is.
Gold scrabbles here and there: forsythia: frail runty yellow
feathers sprout from scanty soil — buttering a toss of corners
in the side-walked town: you stumble down the pavement
like a scarecrow with a tooth ache: pretty close to true.
(Another poem snatches pain from you and turns it
into point of view.) If you are to love this city you suppose

it can’t be only when the two of you are pretty, which
Lord knows, right now, my dear, you aren’t. Currents lurch:
bipolar — hot/cold — devil-zephyrs from the river twiddle with
the ordinariness of people — tourists: bodies are a weight
and bother, something may be flourishing but it is not sweet
human pulchritude. The sun’s too rude, and flesh too
blank and pale and bulbous and mistaken to be taken
seriously. Mysteriously, though, you’ve got to have a taste
of it: you take your aches uptown to Central Park —

decide to walk up to the Metropolitan Museum’s art. All
the geologic outcrops! — rocks and runners! — gray
and unused to the light: squiggly growing green shoots
make it impolite to stare: they’d clearly rather not be there,
all embryonic in the glare. Damn the chronic pain of
everything! — and yet it paints a sort of wash of interest:
splinters of a prickly sensibility that keep you walking and alert
and almost happy with discomfort. Grandeur of the Met
begets its usual surreal imperial effrontery: columns,

steps and quandaries of what to look at first: but
you are on a mission to do two things: see if your sore
mouth can eat a sandwich in the cafeteria, then walk into
the Pompeii bedroom painted gold and blue and red
you caught a glimpse of on your television set that morning
from your bed. The sandwich is a bust: leaves you scowling
(the ghosts of both your wisdom teeth are howling):
but oh! — the room. Roman glory turns the page
and places you in habitable plot. Let the April day resume.

Here we've got the just the opposite, a wildly ambitious, cluttered sensory celebration that deftly captures the rhythms of the world's most complicated city. My favorite line, the one that gives the tale an intriguing twist, is "If you are to love this city you suppose it can't be only when the two of you are pretty..." From there, the momentum takes over, and--especially if you read this city setpiece aloud--it just gets better and better. --Patricia Smith