Monday, April 5, 2010

"Easter at Al Qaeda Bodega"

My tough, beautiful sister-in-law, a committed non-believer, gave me last year for Christmas a poetry anthology by Catholic convert Mary Karr, one of whose poems, "Recuperation from the Dead Love through Christ and Isaac Babel," I wrote about in the early days of this blog.  While trying to avoid folding the laundry today, I pulled the book, Sinners Welcome, off the shelf, and opened to a beautiful poem about New York.

If you've ever lived in New York, you will know exactly what Karr is hinting at.  In his slim book Here is New York, published in 1948, E.B. White wrote:

The citizens of New York are tolerant not only from disposition but from necessity. The city has to be tolerant, otherwise it would explode in a radioactive cloud of hate and rancor and bigotry. . . . In New York smoulders every race problem there is, but the noticeable thing is not the problem but the inviolate truce.

I daresay that White's pre-Civil-Rights-era truce has been largely transformed (in many New York neighborhoods, anyway) to a real spirit of neighborliness, if not brotherliness, among different groups.  And what New Yorker has not at times felt as if he is really in love with all his fellow citizens, and as if each of them shows forth the true face of Christ?

Here is Mary Karr's poem.

At the gold speckled counter, my pal in white apron --
index finger tapping his Arabic paper,
where the body count dwarfs the one in my Times -- announces,
You're killing my people. 

But in Hell's Kitchen, even the Antichrist
ought to have coffee -- one cream
and two sugars.  Blessings
upon you, he says, and means it.


Rodak said...

True. And beautiful.

Rodak said...

You have written so beautifully about New York, and about the sense of exile, that I want to share a set of poems that I put together early this morning, in order to say "thank you."
There are four of them. The first two were written during my first summer in Brooklyn--nearly forty years in the past now. My sense of alienation from the world I had known in the midwest was still at peak strength. The next two were written a few years later, when the City was gradually becoming home to me, it's beauty revealed: Four New York Poems.

Rodak said...

Oops. That should read "its beauty revealed"--the typo changes the sense of the sentence.

Pentimento said...

Thanks for posting the link to your poems, Rodak. I liked them.

Rodak said...

I liked them.

This despite the fact that I dissed your beloved pigeons?
I hope that I had gotten out most of the typos that I found after I posted the link before you looked at them. I find it almost impossible to proof-read my own stuff, even though I'm the one always called on to proof-read documents created by others. With my own words, the mind overrules the eye.

Pentimento said...

Well, I can't control what other people think of my beloved pigeons, and you wrote that poem long before you encountered the voice of reason on that topic. :)

Rodak said...

So true. I now, of course, adore all things pigeon.
Where I am, however, I have to make do with mourning doves, for the most part.

Pentimento said...


Well, mourning doves are a sort of distant cousin of their beautiful urban peers . . . and in England they're called "wood pigeons," so at least you can dream.