Last Saturday, when I attended a poetry reading at the Jefferson Market Library, I recorded the whole thing. My friend, the teacher and poet, Scott Hightower, had curated it and did the introductions as well. The poets, Skye Jackson, author of A Faster Grave, Daniel W.K. Lee, author of Anatomy of Want, Nicole Greaves, author of Having Witnessed the Illusion, and David Tomas Martinez, author of Post Traumatic Hood Disorder, read. Daniel W.K. Lee was the only poet I had heard before so I was in for some treats. In the Vimeos below the poets read in the order that they read. Listen and enjoy.
In the Willa Cather Room
Introductions by Scott Hightower
at the Jefferson Market Library
November 14, 2022
LITTLE CREEK DEEP DRINK
………………………..(For Bonnie Jean Millican)
Like when people cease to worship a minor god:
a Manhattan draw has disappeared beneath
a city; lost in all but legend and name.
The Indians called it Manette—Devil’s Water.
And then, Dutch settlers saw muskrats
in the meadow beside it. And called it
Little Creek. Manette, Minnetje: …
as opposed to a larger course just North.
At his place, before it reached
its mouth at the Hudson,
Aaron Burr bled it out into a pond.
Some still dream of the little drain
winding its erratic way past two centuries
and near notable downtown sites.
The Jefferson Market Public Library
fills a site just west. Washington Square Park,
the scrappy corner urban garden
that once was the Golden Swan Cafe
(Thomas Wallace’s Irish Hell Hole saloon),
Caffe Reggio and the Provincetown Playhouse
on MacDougal, the diagonal Minetta Lane,
other streets and Village buildings
and businesses now stand on its spoor.
The Jefferson Market Library,
once a busy courthouse with stately
Gothic clock tower and adjoining keep,
is still an attraction. In 1896,
Stephen Crane testified here.
And––though there are no girls
in red velvet swings–– in 1906 Harry Thaw
was tried here. As were Mae West
and Barry O’Neill (her costar).
Their Broadway burlesque show “Sex”
(about a Montreal prostitute) was raided.
West was held for a night, the tabloids
went crazy, and on April 19th, 1927, she
was sentenced to a little over a week in jail.
There are photographs of West and O’Neill
sitting beside one another in the courtroom.
Marianne Moore, Grace Paley, Holly
Woodlawn…. all graced its doors.
When I first came to the city,
the site’s community prison for women
was notable. Like reduced Rapunzels
with too much time on their hands,
the inmates–not so much in need
of the sure hooves of a fleet steed
as pens or a book of matches—
would call from the high windows:
“Toilet paper! A magazine, a bar
of soap!” Their voices would kite,
“We’ll show you our ducts
in a row!” They would laugh, lower
“jail-house elevators” (cigarette boxes
jury-rigged with string to trawl
up any lucky pedestrian swag).
The prison eventually came down.
A Pierian garden now grows
in its place, commemorates
those days. On the first floor of the library,
in the Willa Cather Community Room,
writers give public readings of their work.
medusa was black y’all
perseus, hold my dead lips
up close to your ear.
let me tell you a secret
with my split tongues.
once, long ago,
poseidon held a fistful
of my black locks
just like this.
on the floor of the temple,
fingers pulling at my scalp,
he inhaled me; my body
soft from lavender and holy oil.
my robes, cast off and torn,
spilled down over the altar
and even the candles
dimmed in respect of my shame;
my brown skin somehow paled
in the fading light.
the last thing i remember
before the snakes came,
before my body was lost
both to the sea and to knowledge:
a reflection of myself,
in the eyes of that cruel god.
the imprint of his hands,
hot and red as the sea on my neck.
the chill of them
first touching my face –
the press and dead fish stink
of that salty mouth,
lips rough and cold
as the jagged rocks of the deep
against my collarbone.
picture a girl built pretty and open
like a temple, only to be destroyed.
be kind: you are looking at ruins
what i mean to say
is that the swift kiss
of your sword on my neck
is not unfamiliar, perseus.
i have tasted the sharp, quick
pain of a man before.
Sky Jackson’s chapbook, A Faster Grave, is published by Antenna. You can check it out here:
Daniel W.K. Lee
Before the salt comes
and melts another season
between us, let’s just
lay down on
this serenade of snow:
you where only letters reach
and I in a place with no post office.
If this were a rehearsal for
being together, perhaps
the impressions of our bodies
would appear less like
smudges on winter’s cheek
and closer to a footprint—evidence
of a doe—suggesting beyond
speculation, that we
……………………….DDaniel W. K. Lee
Anatomy of Want is published by Rebel Satori Press. You can check it out here:
To find out more about Daniel W.K. Lee, check him out here:
To join Daniel’s Patreon to support his work, visit www.patreon.com/danielwklee
There was a year when you thought of nothing
but horses, from the wild mustang to thoroughbreds, some white
but mostly you envisioned them dark, chestnut and black,
shiny like light on the surface of water. Cutouts
covered your walls, until there was only them
falling into each other: how could there be anything else
to dream of? You wore your hair like a mane,
braided like a mane, like a rope running down
behind you. For a year you felt too massive to stay,
too wounded to move forward. You listened for bells,
for the precision in a sentence that held the shape of an arrow,
one that knew how to find the heart, as if the heart were truly
forgiveness. It was then you began to realize that there might be others
who thought they could become horses too, and you called to them,
and sometimes you believed you heard them answer,
as an afterthought, while trying to leave this world for the next.
Having Witnessed the Illusion is published by Glass Lyre Press. You can check it out here:
David Tomas Martinez
THE ONLY MEXICAN
The only Mexican that ever was Mexican, fought in the revolution
and drank nightly, and like all machos, crawled into work crudo,
letting his breath twirl, then clap and sing before sandpaper
juiced the metal. The only Mexican to never sit in a Catholic pew
was born on Halloween, and ate his lunch wrapped in foil against
the fence with the other Mexicans. They fixed old Fords where my
grandfather worked for years, him and the welder Juan wagered
each year on who would return first to the Yucatan. Neither did.
When my aunts leave, my dad paces the living room and then rests,
like a jaguar who once drank rain off the leaves of Cecropia trees,
but now caged, bends his paw on a speaker to watch crowds pass.
He asks me to watch grandpa, which means, for the day; in town
for two weeks, I have tried my best to avoid this. Many times he will swear,
and many times grandpa will ask to get in and out of bed, want a sweater,
he will ask the time, he will use the toilet, frequently ask for beer,
about dinner, when the Padres play, por que no novelas, about bed.
He will ask about his house, grandma, to sit outside, he will question
while answering, he will smirk, he will invent languages while tucked in bed.
He will bump the table, tap the couch, he will lose his slipper, wedging it in
the wheel of his chair, like a small child trapped in a well, everyone will care.
He will cry without tears – a broken carburetor of sobs. When I speak
Spanish, he shakes his head, and reminds me, he is the only Mexican.
……………………….David Tomas Martinez
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is published by Sarabande Books. You can check it out here: