Didn’t I Fuck You Once?

I’ve left the old Juilliard building,
am waiting for the #5 bus

in the dusk of my first October
in New York. Strolling by,

three trick-or-treaters smack me sideways,

swing me seasick, rout their hands
under my shirt, up my skirt, cup me—

heart-heaving me—in their newly-
adolescent hands. Above, the pious spire

of Riverside Church. Across, a noble-
ized soldier, high and white on his horse.

My two hands against their six.

Leotard and tights, sweat-glued,
keep them from my skin.

I writhe, the boys in cling,
into the empty-wide street.

If a car hits me, we’ll all be hit.

But there are no cars. Not a soul
but the four of us and General Grant.

Not a sound but my huffs and oofs,
and the bells of the famous carillon.

Until, as they are lifting me off my feet,
the glorious accelerando of a bus.

They drop me and I land in a deep plié.

The doors whap open and I fall
into the belly of my savior.

A year later, I’m outside the great gates
of Barnard, piercing a stream of humans

erupting out the 116th Street exit from
the subworld. Our eyes meet and hold.

The leader of the trio, now fully a teenager.

He swerves to pass me close, and when
the sleeve of his jacket brushes mine

and his mouth isn’t far from my ear,
he hiss-whispers the title of this poem.


Click here to read Lillo Way on the origin of the poem.

Image: “Adjacent to Columbia University, On Amsterdam and 118th” by Bob, licensed under under CC 2.0.

Lillo Way:
In writing this narrative poem I wanted to tell an emotionally-charged, true story as succinctly as possible. I shaved away unnecessary words, shelved the poem for a while, took it out again and shaved a few more. I repeated this process several times. It is a “poem of place,” and while most New Yorkers will immediately picture the neighborhood, I hoped to set the scene in a way that might resonate with someone unfamiliar with the location.

Lillo Way
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