Anthony Levin
Anthony Levin is a former human rights lawyer who has written comedy for TV in Australia and the US, as well as numerous stage shows with his long-time co-writing harpoes The Nice Guys. After a year as a Manny in Italy, he is now an aspirational full-time writer based in the UK. He has recently published work in Men’s Style, FHM and Prospect Magazine (UK). His work also appears regularly in the magazines of strange lands such as New Zealand and Finland. Anthony is currently working on his first novel.

Read more from Anthony at Cosmic Journo

New York (A prose poem)
By Anthony Levin

For those who dream of New York, and for those who’ve been there: and fallen.

We come to New York to borrow breath. We come to New York to steal gems from death. In their glint we see something fast, something bright, from a mystery with the pull of tides. Bulging at Her molten core, a swirling holds us in elliptical thrall. When we come to New York, it is down that we fall.

From above the city is alive. Veins throb with restless demons, cells burst with reckless joy, styles spawn like spontaneous fire and channels swell with the impulse of an elegant Beast born over.

New York.

Get closer: the behemoth is a line of towers shoulder to shoulder, steely and cold, a hooded monster breaching its mould. For there are, just above our hopes, a thousand feet of spikes and curves, patriarchy in the sky, towering metallic and monolithic, every brick: a victory.

Closer still, and the stacks shine yellow, a million filaments blinking - square, glaring - each one a cell in a glass eye radiating menace. Together their lights shine out into space with the warmth of a deep-sea creature, but in the resinous pitch of Eternal Night, the City is a beacon lighting paths unto itself.

New York.

See the tips of the filigreed city: where cosmic spires of will turn and turn, higher and higher, tracing sky ladders upward from the Manhattan blocks - they conspire to touch the Heavens. See the tip of Chrysler’s heliograph, the taper of muted peaks, all the transmission needles where bubbles are burst - all but hairs of a mythical Beast.

Below: radial dendrites of steel root down into Hell.

Shrines to achievement. Headstones to despair. This is the face of humanity crushing brilliance.

Complex.

Intolerable.

Insatiable.

New York.

New York, that swelling vanity, which cannot sleep but for the light of her own reflection. She is a mystagogue with too many secrets, losing patience she grows daily, feeds on wonder, carnivorous of weakness, devours ideas even of Herself.

I had a conversation with this City once, not unlike talking to God.

It ended with Her silence, which sounds like the threnody of wishes being snuffed, a wind howling round the Empire, neons crackling like bug catchers, big-talkers sobering up fast, streets suffering the shift of stars in senescence, the Doppler of dark dramas warping into dawn when the sound of azan issues forth once more from the minarets of progress, and the masses emerge:

summoned

by the call

to the American Dream.

***

It begins down in the Guts of the City – the Subway.

Breaking the fluorescent dawn are the buskers and breakers, crooners and quakers, shoulder to shoulder, with PAs stacked atop old newspapers. They are looking at their palms counting all the creases black with tarry matter; they are charming grey snakes from their slumber.

The bowels rumble with morning hunger.

A hissing iron symphony drowns out those subterraneans: sewer rats recede, pigeons perk up, bodies converge on yellow lines like Lenape dancers, all clock-watching, reading, shuffling and weaving, dodging, ducking, shvitzing, needing to make it through that closing door, rapping across the faded tiles, crashing their way through sinew humidity rust-

-capsules bound for whoknowswhere burst through portals, punch stale air, gather shrivelled odours out and up dark vents, steel grates, fans and ducts, dislodging clumps of oil preserved like hundred-year eggs, hustling the warm breath of the snake-charmers mixing them both with smoke and cinders, sulphur and tar, fly ash and then does a hot Zephyr form and thrust into daylight, blow soot-fall up skirts, leaving jetsam in the cracks, collect in mists around bitumen steps scuffed and pressed twenty million times into urban decoupage: gum, tobacco, headline triage.

Pipes and tubes follow winding lines, double back, turn sharply, carry pale grey waters past the Fulton Street Line where the pattern repeats, in mists around steps with the same digestive heat, where inhabitants rise and fall on a wave that filters sunlight to the streets. The city of grit rolls in the smog of their illusions.

The bowels are empty, but for the stench of man.

“She’ll flatten you, she will. She’ll yell at you ‘Scram!’” warn the ghosts of New Amsterdam, spraying foam and spittle from soapbox stands. How are they fighting The Battle of New York? With a million armies of one! And who could resist the call when the War is not yet won?

They feed on Her mercurial blood, some tasting hemlock, others elixir: like the sibyl with a salon of expensive shoes for ladies who lunch with the Lexington blues – they come with visions of an ungodly creature cackling and wailing and coupling with their city. “I saw Her engorged and flaming, with moons about Her chest!” says one woman her hair turned white, the sibyl shedding her retail light, “Forget it, look here, it’s just the Wizard of Ozone Park, when he’s mixing potions he’s prone to laugh and laugh”, and she tells the lady to click her heels three times, wait until the laughter subsides and cascades to a trickle on the Lower East Side, past couples like giants under the Brooklyn Bridge who turn to each other and say:

“Let’s rock this Baby!” and they mean, the City.

Racing hand in hand, their ghosts still swooning, they know Her promise of affection, a metropolis of kisses between arches and pillars, foreshores and facades, the American Wet Dream crouching under gateways where Poets walk home in worn shoes from East 3rd – their steamy desires evaporating and falling just now over Wall Street, pelting down on bald spots, blowing comb-overs over and ties over shoulders, rippling suits, knifing down alleys where graffiti screams ‘Poetry Lives!’.

Inside glass towers, executives leave boardrooms to snort cocaine; the dreams of aspirants come to warm their seats. Most are snuffed by men with designs on the City’s reptilian eyes shining from a penthouse in the sky, which they would have gouged and set as jewels for trophy wives and secretarial concubines.

On the Central Park circuit, Jamaican Nannies push prams bearing alabaster princes; they yell down cells: “Ah will be home at sivan thirty – juz bah some fry chicken, poot it in di ovan.” From under their visors the vibrant little heirs to the Upper East Side stretch their precocious vibe into scum that spreads, coating pavements, lining gutters, clogging throats with glottal sounds, peaking in and out of trash, luring the fingers of drowsy bums into the mucus stream to trace pictures on shopwindows. Mops lie still over bunkers with steel-doors, hair dank and dandruffed, while dark men strain under loveless light to end the day. The night atrophies in their wake and the day rises again, glistening.

Summertime, around three: Children of Mithras lounge in Union Square awash with stellar splendour, all born from pop-rock, bearing books with faded ink. They’re on their way to The East Village where the mouth’s literary waters weep and late night blues, tender as confessions of love, play on until dawn.

Night begins with the maudlin taxi horns, the sirens that sing their double-helix songs, like streamers contorting in the gallery of stars. Bull-headed drinkers enter moody bars, they know the cocktail menu by heart. To the power and order of Argos they shout, “Get me another drink!”, call their cult Manahachtanienk which in Delaware means “island where we all got drunk”. The night never dies as long as they sit drinking philtres of all kinds, oiling words with thoughts of sex in the city.

***

New York, Oh grand cathedral of ideas, will you ever sleep? New York, ornamental wasteland, saccharine monotony of pretty things, with all your icing sugar on The Void, you cannot conceal yourself forever. Out in the corners of your crooning dark, where even God has forgotten he exists, You fill the gaps with anonymous junk and the crevices with nervous shit.

What city is this, which expands ever upwards like a thousand cities condensed and stacked, where domes flicker like the surface of eyes, where beneath the armour of stalactites and urchin spikes, jewels glow like Indra’s Web and tinkle like wind chimes, lifting dreams with gentle harmonics? What city is this, where the sky fills with mysteries from the Gorgon’s eye and below the Hudson is chastened, where deeper still magma flows – the magma of hearts and minds behind tenement rooms tinged blue, aglow with a glass teat suckling late into the night.

Rich earth-bound life! Every animal has its parasites. The pigeons, the rats, the people - the sky is stencilled with their common dreams, for they have all now seen what incongruous things are two jet planes and a falling man’s screams.

That flailing image fell from violence, left the Beast pious in silence, the women and men all dressed in dust for the War of Pantomime; more points and daggers than ever before. When all the others fell, as they always have, they left shrill notes hanging in their spiral descents and gas bills fluttering in the wind.

With shards of towers like a broken spine: the Beast left slouching.

Still: we have the Liberty winds to sweep us off our feet; still we have memories to catch us as we fall; still we have children to tell of how we strolled to the waterfront and gave in, how we laughed and how we cried, how we swooned and how we smiled thinking of the first time

we fell in love

with New York City.

Pushlished in The Diamond & the Thief- December 09