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Cliff Fyman reads from Taxi Night

 

In the city that never sleeps, Cliff Fyman drove a cab all night creating poetry from what he heard his passengers say. I’ve enjoyed hearing these poems over the years. Happily they are finally a book called Taxi Night.

I went over to Cliff’s the other day—he lives on East 10th Street across from Tompkins Square Park—and recorded him in profile, shot against the light, in silhouette most of the time focusing on the words as they are spoken in the guise of people in the Vimeo below. Enjoy.

 

 

 

Here are three poems from Taxi Night.

*


I turned left at 39th and Park
a man hailed me
standing long blue overcoat
—Ron Padgett—
poet I’ve revered for years!
Soon as he said, ‘Tenth Street and Second Avenue,’
I announced myself in the dark.
‘Hi, Ron. This is Cliff Fyman!’
He cried out surprised as I was.
I reached my hand through the open
partition
shook his hand
declaring, ‘This ride is free!’
Ron braked, ‘Oh, no, it isn’t!
You put that meter on right now
or I’m getting out of this damn cab!’
He went for the door.
I flipped the meter on.
I didn’t want him running out.
He asked how I was doing.
Practically suicidal seconds ago
now I could say, ‘GREAT!’
We chatted the whole way.
‘Poet Dick Gallup—
he’s my oldest friend,’
Ron said sadly
probably thinking of older friends now gone,
‘drove cab 40 years
for the same San Francisco company.
Got promoted to dispatcher.’
‘Tremendous!’ I shouted,
adrenaline soaring.
‘They had to know him well,’ Ron figured,
‘after working there 40 years.’
We touched on a variety of subjects:
Uber’s cutting into 30%
of yellow cab business,
recent readings we’d been to.
I felt transported to a state
where all complaints fell away.
He recalled a painter he admired
who lived on my block
till she passed on, Jane Wilson,
exhibited at the Parrish Art Museum.
Friend to Jane Freilicher.
Her husband was art critic John Gruen.
Weaving the wide Sienna van
through a log-jammed intersection
I remarked, ‘I don’t want any accidents
with Ron Padgett in my cab.’
He returned my jest with his own beam—
‘It would be in the NY Times.’

When I pulled up he asked me to sign
the receipt—seriously?—yes!
He’d sell it he said
to the Yale Library special collection
and get paid more for it
than the cost of the ride.
He shook my hand goodbye.
Wow!
What a ride!


*


SPEAK!
And use your words.
Use your words.
Speak!
Don’t use violence!
Because violence overshadows
everything we’re fighting for.
All of it.
Know this—we’re living in a world of violence.
It’s definitely not my forte.
It’s not the world I want to live in.
I want to live in a world
where we’re all happy
and we can be free.
And though I know this—
I know we’re in a country
where the basis
the premise
is being free
but to me it’s not
and to a lot of people it’s not
and there needs to be more
into the light
we fighting to be free.
And we don’t need violence
to show that.
We don’t need violence.
To me we don’t need violence
to show that.

But I get resistance.
It’s like the constant
Malcolm X—Martin Luther King argument.
Like, what’s the right way to go about
things?
Should we do violence
or should we push forward
in a non-violent way?
To me violence isn’t the answer.
To me honesty is the answer.
I’m a lesbian.
I’m 23.
My mother is Puerto Rican.
My father came alone
from Cuba at age 14.
We need community.
Let’s be honest
and fight this battle together.
And that’s all we need.
And let us be honest
and fight this battle together.
And I will be there to fight
this battle together
with everyone!

 

*


You seem like a neat driver.
Do you mind taking me to Remsen Avenue in Canarsie?
Know how to get there?
How long you been driving cab?
I like the music you got on.
Blues on WKCR?
All right!
Are you married? Got a girlfriend?
A guy like you is alone? I don’t believe it!
But I know what it’s like.
After a while I felt like, yo, I can’t do this forever.
You know what I’m saying?
So that’s how you got to feel.
Do you want me to help you find a girl?
(Silence)
I know a lot of women in New York City.
           Ok. I’m listening.
Where do I meet them?
Everywhere!
I go out.
I go to bars.
I go to hookah lounges.
I go to libraries.
I go to art shows.
I even go to poetry contests!
I was up to two girls a day for a while there.
I’m 23, and I’m out all the time, man.
I meet girls everywhere.
What do you have to lose?
We could do a photo shoot of you, right?
Clean you up.
Then what I’ll do: I’ll match you.
We’ll find you ten dates, right?
And then we see what type of women
want to go out with you.
With one you’ll do coffee.
With another one you’re going to walk
in the um—what’s it called?—
in-the-park.
Out of those ten
even if nine are bad
I’m pretty sure you’ll be able to find one.
          You would think so.
Yessss, man.
And I’m not going to charge you that much.
Of course, I got to make a little money
because I got to get you, like, a nice suit.
          Yeah—but I’m not—why can’t—
          I’m not that kind of way. I’m not so formal.
You got to get formal
if you want to find a good woman!
All right?
Turn right on 4th Avenue.
Left on Atlantic.
So this is how we’re going to do it.
I’m going to get you a good haircut
and then
off with those grandpa glasses
for the photo shoot.
Put them back on now because you’re driving.
All right, king?
I’m going to clean you up.
But first you got to go to boot camp with me.
I got to get you prepared for the date.
You know what I’m saying?
I’m going to bring you back to your old days,
to your ten years ago days, fifteen years ago days,
back when you was a smooth hot shot,
back when you was a top dog player
in the party.
I know you used to go to those parties.
Didn’t you, champ?
          Sure.
Did you ever do weed?
          Lots of it.
Exactly!
You ever did weed with a hot ++ young thing?
         Sure.
Exactly!
You want me to bring you back to those days?
Yo, you should take this opportunity.
Be optimistic.
What could go—how could it go—
how could it be any worse at this point?
Let’s be honest.
You know what I’m saying?
           It can’t get much worse.
Exactly!
Maybe a young feller who came in your car
came in your car for a reason
because guess what?
I could probably—I could probably—
turn this into a tv show!
You know what I’m saying?
I can see the t.v. show now: starring Chris Kingsley!
The Young Guy Who Helps the Older Guys Out.
It’s usually the other way around
but I’ll keep doing it.
And bigger guys with bigger budgets
is gonna help me out!
You know what I’m saying?
More people will hire me!
Yo, man!
Everybody needs somebody
to help him get back in shape.
          If you have some success with me
          the word’ll spread.
Exactly!
Yo, man.
I think we should do this.
At this point, bro, you seem very cool
but I got to be honest with you.
You look like you hit rock bottom
in the love section.
How old are you?
          Fifty-eight.
You don’t look that.
You know how you look? 40!
          Thank you.
You look young, man!
Especially since you shave your beard.
See, imagine you with a haircut
and a nice tailored suit.
You know what I’m saying?
          You’re talkin’ wisdom.
I am talkin’ wisdom
because I know what I’m talkin’ about!
Check out these photos
on my phone.
This ((bare-breasted)) girl
is the daughter of the
vice-president of Con Edison!
Worse comes to worse
you go on a few dates
with ten great women.
Oh, wow. That’s so bad?
A lot of young girls
are into old men right now.
If you want to get them you need swag.
Do you still get up?
Yo, I’m going to help you
get your swag back.
You know why you lost your swag?
Because you’re driving this cab, man.
Is this job stressing you out?
Don’t lie.
Tell me the truth.
I won’t judge you.
I promise.

 

Taxi Night is published by Long News Books. You can check it out here:

http://longnewsbooks.org/taxi-night

 

 

Cliff Fyman

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