Manhattan, 1971 | Lynne Cattafi

After Robert Caro

Someday, let us sit on this bench and reflect on the gratitude of man.
Robert Moses

I am awake before the alarm clock,
remembering the day at the edge of the Hudson,
the lowest point on the map,
surveying before me the scarred and filthy railroad tracks,
grit, mud. Death Avenue, they called it. Wretched.

I imagined what no one else could,
saw past the wasteland to the blue river, the Palisades.
And I made it in my own image. Me, a Jew from New Haven
(they never let me forget), a university man.

Now, my reflection in the light of Lincoln Center.
My light in the spans, cantilevers, the trusses
of the Verrazano, the mighty Triborough.
My sweat in the dank tar of the Cross Bronx.
My sunlight over the sands of Fire Island.

Bella said, Public service is the noblest of causes, son,
so I gave them an escape from their gritty reality,
a way to trespass on another kind of life,
forget cramped tenements, filthy with vermin,
the only light a pinch of sky visible
in the inches between colliding buildings,
sooty bricks and mortar.

But the floor opened up under our feet, they said.
Your dreams ran ramshod through city blocks. Lives.
(You call these lives?)
What could we do in the face of your power?
What could we do? they asked.

You could be grateful, I say. Only God created more than I did.
Why weren’t they grateful?


Lynne Cattafi teaches English to middle schoolers at a private school in New Jersey. When she’s not teaching pre-teens to love writing poetry and reading books, she enjoys drinking coffee, building Lego cities from scratch with her children, walking her beagle, and reading historical fiction and mysteries. Her poetry has appeared in Elephants Never, Marias at Sampaguitas and Vita Brevis. She can be found on Twitter at @lynnecatt.