Leaving New York
I was leaving New York with a certain sadness and with
profound admiration . . . it had given me the most useful
experience of my life. I must thank it for many things . . .
The day I left New York
it was pouring rain like
the end of Breakfast at Tiffany’s
(the movie). Fitting--
my idea of the city
had never been realistic.
I said goodbye to Ira and Byron
in the downstairs loft.
Byron had seen my suitcase,
knew I was leaving. It
took me by surprise,
seeing him so upset,
and woke me to the reality
of the moment. I
started to cry. “Are we
making a mistake?”
Ira had asked this two
or three times since we’d
broken up, and here
it was again—at the last
minute. He was crouched
down, holding onto
Byron, who was trying
to squirm free. I was
worried about getting
a taxi in the rain.
“No, this is for the best.”
He looked up at me.
“I felt taken advantage of.”
“That was never my intention,”
I replied. Still crying,
I hailed a cab, sat drenched
in the back seat as it
pulled away, rain pounding
the roof, streaking down
the windows. Right
turn on Houston. I
was off—almost. A few
blocks east, at Lafayette,
we hit a big puddle;
the engine died. When
the driver couldn’t
get it started, I tried to
hand him some bills
through the partition.
He refused: his fault,
he insisted. I let them fall
into the front anyway,
got out, flagged down
another taxi, and made it
to JFK with time to spare.
It appeared New York
wanted me to leave
as much as I wanted
to leave it. At the gate,
I called Ira on my cell
phone (my first) and burst
into tears all over again:
I’m sorry. Thank you for
our life together. I love you.
Goodbye. Still crying
as my Xanax took effect
during takeoff, as the plane
rose above the storm
and I floated in blue
toward the future.
Of course New York
kept calling me back--
for readings, to research
Tim’s, then my, life.
(I’d sold my papers--
thirty years of letters,
to NYU before moving.)
It’s a strangeness like
none other: revisiting
your own past in the
hush of the Fales Library
reading room. My
first trip back, after a
massage with Jeffery’s
therapist, I walked
down Seventh Avenue
in a blissed-out daze,
and it came to me that I
should thank the city
for all the opportunities
it had given me, for
all it had taught me.
So I did. I talked to it.
And prayed for Jimmy
as I passed St. Vincent’s,
where I visited him
the day before he died.
That night, introducing
me at a reading at
the Bowery Poetry Club,
Karen Weiser said,
“New York misses you,
David.” It felt as if
the city was talking
to me, too, through
her. A sadness like
none other: returning,
time and time again,
to the place that had
inflicted such confusion,
such pain, then leaving
(often after a magical,
whirlwind trip) in
a cab speeding up
FDR Drive, the East
River glittering in late
Only to arrive the next
time, at LaGuardia,
wait for your suitcase
(with the black leather
Eiffel Tower tag) at
the carousel, wait
in the taxi queue, then
drive in silence toward
the Midtown Tunnel.
Skyline comes into view
—no Twin Towers--
and the cemetery (I never
did learn its name)
directly underneath it--
the eye following all
into the jagged line
of skyscrapers. In this
way, New York always
reminds you of your
irrelevance: death awaits
all this teeming of life.
Once on the island,
dissolves and you return
to the streets, prisoner of
your own self-importance.
The Washington Square
Hotel, close to where
I once lived, became my
new headquarters. I
loved that each room had two,
sometimes three framed
headshots of iconic movie
stars, with full-blown
lavender roses decaled on
the glass. You never
knew which stars you
were going to get. Clark
Gable and Norma Shearer?
Katharine Hepburn and
Jean Harlow? Joan Crawford,
Gary Cooper, and Myrna Loy?
In the cramped restaurant
downstairs: an omelette
in a booth below Klimt’s
The Kiss—a kitschy tiled
trees in Washington Square
cloaked with snow, after
a fresh snowfall. In all
weathers, the perpetually
young NYU students,
the drug pushers, the
ancient lady walking her
terrier. It hobbles after,
wearing a little coat.
I didn’t really leave
New York until ten years
after I moved. Elaine
brought me back to read
in the Poetry Forum at
The New School. The circle
was complete: a decade
later, a reading at
the school where I taught
for seven years, where
I learned to be a teacher.
And it was spring!
Introducing me, Elaine
said, “In the poems of
David Trinidad, the TV
is always on.” Afterwards,
Mark Bibbins told me that
as I was reading, in the
window behind me, there
was a striking pink sunset.
My parting gift. The next
day, in a taxi on the way
to LaGuardia, I was at peace
with the skyline: beautiful
and still, beneath a clearing
sky (it had rained in the
night). “If I never come back
here again,” I thought, “I
would be fine with that.”
When all is said and done,
my most enduring memories of
New York have nothing to
do with people or poetry.
Just a few private instances.
Driving one morning at
5:00 a.m., late in the nineties,
in a car with darkened
windows, to the airport--
off to read somewhere
or visit family in California--
and seeing a purple sunrise
begin to break through
a bank of black clouds.
I was being driven into
a watercolor. And aware,
as the car clip-clopped across
the Williamsburg Bridge, that
half my life was behind me.
(Definitely a glass-half-empty
feeling.) Walking down
Sixth Avenue carrying a green
and white Balducci’s bag
(the only time I ever
felt like a New Yorker).
Bunches of parti-colored
tulips outside a greengrocer.
A glimpse, at dusk, of pink
at the end of street. Still
relatively new to New York,
getting caught in a downpour
without an umbrella near
Tompkins Square Park. I
stood in a doorway and
smoked a cigarette, waited
for the deluge to pass. Or
desultory in the back of a cab
watching Fifth Avenue,
deserted on Sunday morning,
whiz by (on my way to meet
Jeannie to go to a doll show
in Hackensack), but perking
up when I saw the facade
of Tiffany & Co. and, the
wistful strains of “Moon
River” stirring in my
dispirited mind, pictured
Audrey Hepburn sipping
coffee and munching
a croissant as she gazes
into the store, comforted by
(and here I quote from
the book, not the movie)
“the quietness and
the proud look of it;
nothing very bad could
happen to you there.”
The radiator is clanking
as if someone’s hammering on
the pipes (time to get up) and Byron
is at the door, barking: he hears
Obie Benz climbing the stairs
to his office (the loft above us). Obie
made a documentary in the late eighties,
Heavy Petting—in which celebrities
like Allen Ginsberg, Sandra Bernhard,
Laurie Anderson, and William S. Burroughs
confessed their first sexual experiences--
that did quite well. “Byron!” We
never properly trained him, so such
pleas are pointless. Still, we yell
Shhh! Quiet! Shut the fuck up! Byron
looks at us, baffled for a second, then
goes right on barking. I finally
pull myself out of bed. Blessedly
I don’t teach today. Ira sits at
the kitchen table, reading the Times.
I am no longer interested in the news.
From the left front window of our loft
(facing Spring Street), we can see
part of the Empire State Building--
a reminder, when I do notice it, how
lucky I am to live here. Lucky? Amazed
might be closer to the truth. Often,
walking down the street or hailing
a cab, I think: “You actually live here.
In New York City. Where you always,
since you read Valley of the Dolls as
a teenager, wanted to be.” The glamour
instantly disappears when the next person
bumps me (intentionally?) without
saying “I’m sorry.” Nothing makes
me angrier. Laura, my therapist, says
it requires constant negotiation:
too many people crowded into too
small a space. I try to imagine myself
old in Manhattan—walking a different
cairn terrier (Byron would be gone
by then), sitting alone in a brown booth
at the Knickerbocker—but can’t.
This city is for the young or the rich.
I’ve never really liked it, would probably
have left after graduate school if I hadn’t
met Ira. I tell myself (and others) that
the relationship is all that’s keeping me here.
Everyone who is going to die has died--
for the time being, at any rate. Many
I once counted as friends are no longer
in my life. We still give dinner parties.
Who comes? Wayne Koestenbaum.
Susan and Philip. Robyn and Stacey.
Ira’s publishing partner from London.
Gary. Betsy. Linda. Lynne. (More
Ira’s friends than mine.) I see Elaine
on my own. And Jeffery. My therapist.
Is there no one else I can count on?
I’ve quit smoking—the hardest thing
I’ve ever done, harder than giving up
alcohol and drugs—and started collecting
toys from my childhood. Firmly
in my mid-forties, there’s plenty of time
to waste. (Somehow I know this.)
When Ira launches his own agency,
he leases the loft below us and sets up
his offices there. Obie rarely works late,
so at night we have the building to
ourselves. I read how Elizabeth Taylor
and Richard Burton, at the height
of their stardom, booked the hotel rooms
above, below, and on either side
of theirs, to ensure privacy. I pretend
that Ira and I are the gay equivalent
of Irving Mansfield and Jacqueline
Susann, the Sunday Times (I do read
“Arts & Leisure”) strewn all over
the green pin-striped duvet cover on
our queen-size bed (not enough room
for a king). Byron is our Josephine.
At the kitchen table, I write a long
skinny poem in Byron’s voice—“Every
Night, Byron!”—a week in the life
of an urbane canine. Byron sits at my
feet whenever I work on it, as if he
knows what I’m up to. His vigil ends
as soon as I finish the poem. Ira objects
that I refer to us as “one for-the-most-
part-happy little alternative family.”
“That’s how Byron sees us,” I say.
A lesbian couple, both named Debbie,
that we used to hang out with, once
told us they’d made a vow to always
stay together. In my heart (but not
my head?) I know Ira and I will not.
While Ira is in London on business
I read a book on the Zodiac Killer--
a garish yellow, red, and black true-crime
paperback—that keeps me awake: I
obsessively check the locks on the door
and the windows, the fire escape gate.
Must I, for the rest of my life, bar
windows and doors against the Manson
Family, the Zodiac, Richard Speck?
Byron would be no help: he’d probably
want an intruder to throw his pink
squeak-toy. Yet he’ll wait at the door for
Obie’s footsteps, run to the front windows
to bark at a motorcyclist revving his bike.
I sit at the middle window and watch
them film a scene from Sex and the City:
Sarah Jessica Parker and her redheaded
sidekick walking down West Broadway,
talking about their love lives, no doubt.
SoHo has been transformed (overnight,
it seems, though it must have been gradual)
from a relatively quiet neighborhood, that
came alive nights there were openings at
art galleries, into a teeming mecca of
high-end clothing stores. The sidewalks,
especially on weekends, thick with tourists
and shoppers, street vendors hawking
tacky T-shirts and third-rate paintings.
It’s impossible to walk Byron, when it’s
this crowded, without some kind of
altercation. I don’t leave the apartment
all weekend, if I can help it, and suffer
when Ira isn’t around to take Byron out.
Nights, too, are noisier: every brute
from Jersey, Long Island, and the other
boroughs comes into Manhattan to let
loose. On St. Patrick’s Day, the Empire
State a lit emerald encased in mist, revelers
yell, smash glass, and get into fistfights.
The big reading at St. Mark’s Church for
the Norton anthology of postmodern
poetry approaches. I dread being in
the same room as Eileen. The morning
of, I decide to burn all her letters to me.
Why should I cherish them when she
clearly has no regard for my friendship.
Destroying them will free, secretly
empower me, I think. Ira eggs me on.
I fill the kitchen sink with years of
correspondence: letters and postcards
with her sloppy handwriting and scrawl
of a signature (which I used to treasure),
photographs, manuscripts, poems I asked
her to write out by hand, the downward
squiggle on the blue cover of Sappho’s Boat
that she drew for me and signed (which
I always meant to have framed). I light
the match. Ira fans the smoke toward
the open window. How I loved receiving
word from her, first in my studio in
Hollywood, then, after I got sober, my
studio in Silver Lake. When she stayed
with me at the latter, she ruined my yellow
teakettle while I was at work: turned on
the burner underneath it then forgot, went
out to the courtyard to sunbathe. I didn’t
care about the teakettle at the time, but
ten years later, analyzing our friendship
with Laura, I did care that she didn’t
apologize or offer to replace it. Once,
I sent her a magazine with two of my
new poems; “Tim’s Stolen Sweater” was
one of them. She wrote back: “the best
of David.” That had meant so much to me.
Now as I feed the letter to the flames, her
messy black handwriting crumples to ash.
I wake with a start from an afternoon nap.
Byron curled at my feet. I’d dozed off
while reading Seth Speaks—just a few
pages of his “you create your own reality”
channelings make my head heavy. Byron
growls, jumps off the bed, runs barking
to the door as Obie Benz descends the
stairs. I don’t know (or care?) where Ira
is. It’s beginning to get dark. As I fall
back asleep, Byron’s barking fades. This
is how I am creating my middle age.
David Trinidad’s most recent books are Dear Prudence: New and Selected Poems (2011) and Peyton Place: A Haiku Soap Opera (2013), both published by Turtle Point Press. He is also the editor of A Fast Life: The Collected Poems of Tim Dlugos (Nightboat Books, 2011). Trinidad currently lives in Chicago, where he teaches at Columbia College. These two poems are from his new book, Notes on a Past Life, forthcoming in 2016 from BlazeVOX [books].