“Bridge and Tunnel”

I am a bridge-and-tunnel kid,
a suburbanite turned urbanite
turned weekend lesbian,
smoking cigarettes, weed, buying a vibrator on west fourth —

I spew poems, slam with poets, get slammed by poets,
slam into poets again and again and again —
I offer up my heart and soul to poets better versed than me,
with better verses than me,
and with the hardened shell of experience to swallow their losses
and slam all over again
All I have to offer is verse and hot thin skin —

Because I write older, and feel older,
and dream in neon
but write
pretty pansy pastel prose
seamed with black nylon rope,
poems like:

roped into soccer-volleyball-tennis-littleleague
drama club, girl scouts, sunday school, food drives
clothes that never fit quite right and muddy summer-white sneakers
reading thehobbit-roalddahl-harrypotter under bedsheets
hiding Ginsberg under desks and Kerouac in a sock drawer.

See, while girls in Keds go to the beach,
I’m getting intimately acquainted with the A train
and wishing that those bridges and tunnels would just collapse already
to keep the real world out and the poets in–
I consort with aggressive city men-women-children-dogs,
and live with weeds and buildings and filth and sidewalks,

writing shit like:
we are our own gods
and nobody holds doors open, sweetheart,
so get on the good graces of doorknobs

Mr. Ginsberg, I’ve seen my generation, too,
but we’re not starving

We’re so full of human suffering and human hope
and human cruelty
that we don’t know where we stop and where the world begins
We feel so raw and vibrant and full of longing
that our skin isn’t enough to contain it —
I feel my ribcage break and expand and fuse and break all over again,
until I am big enough to hold my own yearning

I am restless. I am transient
I write and read and slam and ache —

but I only love in retrospect,
because what I do not do is settle

See, I want to love a man with sisters
or a woman who knows who she is but not what she is —
a poet who can match me verse for verse
and slam with me as he slams into me,
or she into me,
or me into him or her or it or them,
someone who can understand my longing
when I read poems late at night —

I want to live somewhere with a fire escape,
I want to have pipe dreams,
I want to eat things that come from the earth,
to feel lonely in bed
and solitary perfect fouram-west-village alone

Author’s Note:

This poem, unlike most that I write, was a one-shot deal. Written on one sitting, and not altered much from that original draft. It is directly inspired by, and an homage to, “Howl” by Allen Ginsberg. Written as spring faded into summer and the Beat Generation took over my bookshelves, it captures a vivacious time in my life. It is my teenage rebellion, my yearning, and my prayer to the Beats.

The first time I performed this poem was one of the best performances of my life. It served as the final scene in my theater class senior thesis, a short original play about the Beat Generation. Though only a few dozen friends and peers, as well as my theater teacher, were in the audience, I rank it as my best performance ever. The fact that it was my last performance for my high school drama program, the keystone of my life for the past four years, made it very emotional. I felt invincible as the lights faded on me, and it was the perfect end to my life as I knew it.

The pace of this poem is, in a word, frantic. The last seven stanzas are the most earnest, honest words I have ever written, and the poem hinges on my truthful communication of those emotions with my performance. I do not so much interact with the audience, but confront them — give them this piece without apology and without fear. Eye contact, open body language, and a frank tone are all tools I use to keep the audience engaged. If I succeed, they know me a little better, and get a little flutter in their hearts when they remember (or anticipate) their own teenage yearning.

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