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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

NEW YORK CITY, Grapes of Wrath

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

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 for thirty-five years.
I am a New Yorker! You must understand!

Nope, nope, I probably confuse you.

What happens here? I have some examples.
Take the Second Avenue Subway. I doesn't exist!
City continues the project as long as I remember.
Seventh Avenue, midtown calls it Fashion Avenue;
Yet garment making has no role in today's American trade!

And the neighborhoods, they all look the same.
Look down the blocks. What do you see?
Corporate interests and franchise,
Dunkin' Donuts and big-time banks,
And, on almost every other corner,
Drug-store chains hawking their wares,
That's the story, the moms-and-pops, those stores,
Those stores are gone.

I notice more begging,
People seeking handouts more today than I ever recall.
The murder rate spikes. The poor kill the poor;

Children shoot other children.

And the City's once renowned middle class 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, when you return, we go for dinner.
I only see you once and a while and then for a short time.

Ever notice all the lottery tickets which losers leave
On counter tops, and discard to the floor?
Seems many 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. Richard Wright first recorded them from a street corner conversation in the late 1930s while he worked for the Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration. He later published them in 12 Million Black Voices. I took Wright's original street transcription and changed its tone and slant. Ultimately, I turned it into a personal love poem. SP

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