Central Park, 1974
Central Park at night
was off the end of the flat world:
"There dragons be!"
But my garage (west 61st) was diagonally
across the park from my apartment (east 97th),
the subways out of the way and dreary,
and many a dark pre-dawn
when I left my cab at the garage and walked uptown,
the park looked innocent as Eden,
so one such morning, looking over my shoulder
at utterly empty Central Park West,
I plunged in,
roved alone among the trees,
up along the reservoir,
over rocks and horse paths, all deserted,
just me and trees and over the East Side,
the first pink tinge of sunrise.
I met no dragons. Muggers, too, must sleep.
In a city of millions, fear and exhaustion
had relinquished acres of woods and dewy lawn
as new as the morning dove's coo coo coo --
to me alone.
I walked home through the park
every night. Friends,
other drivers -- all said, "You're
nuts!" Once, at 6 a.m., I exchanged hi's
with a white-haired, red-sweat-suited lady
jogging along the park drive.
I never met anyone else,
except one night when I got in early.
I didn't know that the southwest corner of the park
was, until about 2 a.m.,
a meeting and mating territory for gays;
I'd never been there that early before.
I paused in a clearing
to watch a full red moon rise,
huge, above the trees. A slim young man
appeared at my side and looked
where I looked. I said,
"Beautiful, isn't it." He said, "Yes,"
and reached out to touch my arm. I said,
"No." He drew his hand back quickly
as if from a flame, was silent a moment,
then said, "Oh, you're straight,
aren't you." "Yes." And we stood there
a moment more, side by side,
watching the moon rise.
Long after, I'd think of that moment
and remember not the moon's beauty
nor anything repellent about his approach,
but the relief in his voice
when he said, "Oh, you're straight,
aren't you." I, too, was relieved --
that he'd pulled back his hand.
But why was HE relieved? Was it
one of those things my best friends
don't tell me? Or just his knowing
from the start something wasn't
the way it was supposed to be?
I didn't ask, but I had two other thoughts:
One was a story my Uncle used to tell
of visiting New York as a young man,
staying at the Y where a guy
put his hand on my Uncle's knee
and how my Uncle punched him good.
Maybe my companion was glad
I kept looking at the moon.
But maybe, like anyone caught up
in the tangled fears and hopes
of cruising and courtship,
he was relieved because I wasn't
what he'd hoped, was just someone
he could share a moment with
who would want nothing of him.
Suddenly, for that moment,
the world got awfully simple.
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