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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

NEW YORK CITY, Grapes of Wrath

Grapes of Wrath,
An Adaptation of Sentiments from a WPA Doument *

I am in New York City, but New York City,

It does not belong to me. You understand?
I am in New York City, but New York City is not in me.
What do I mean? Listen. I am from Chicago, Illinois,
Been in New York City thirty-five years.
I am a New Yorker! You must understand!

Nope, nope, I am probably confusing you.

What happens here? Take the Second Avenue Subway.
City continues the project as long as I remember.
Seventh Avenue, it used to be Fashion Avenue;

But garment making has lost its niche in America's trade!

And the neighborhoods, they all look alike,
Very little in the way of diversity.
Corporate interests and franchise,
Dunkin' Donuts and banks,

Drug-store chains almost on every corner.

More begging today than I ever recall.

The murder rate spikes. The poor kill the poor.

And the City's once renowned middle class,
It is forced to flee. I see a Great Migration,
A town left to ladies with big, diamond engagement rings,
And babies pushed in fancy perambulators.

By the way New York City's mayor,
He is the richest man in the state.

And you, you, too, you are not around much anymore.

How seldom I see you during the course of a year!
I am lonely without you.
I miss your not being home with me.

Nowadays, you go abroad and return only for a short time.

Ever notice all the lottery tickets which losers leave
On counter tops, and discard to the floor?
Seems a lot of people hope to change their luck.

You follow? You understand what I mean?

I am in New York City, but New York City is not in me.

*I copied out these sentiments years ago. I adapted them to my own use a few times before and recently have updated them, again. I believe Richard Wright first noted them from street conversations in the late 1930s, when he worked as a folklorist for President Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration. Wright later published his recorded interviews in 12 Million Black Voices.

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