Johns Hopkins Magazine - September 1994 Issue


Goodbye Hello in the East Village

By Molly Peacock, MA '76

Three tables down from Allen Ginsberg we sit
in J J's Russian Restaurant. My old friend,
who's struggled for happiness, insists
on knowing why I'm happy. An end
to my troubles of the century? "Listen Molly, if I
didn't know you so well, I'd think you were
faking this good cheer," she says, her eyes
bright openings like a husky's eyes in its fur.
(My friend is half an orphan. It's cold in here.)
The East Village shuffles past J J's window,
and we hear Allen order loudly in the ear
of the waitress, "Steamed only! No cholesterol!"
"I could tell you it's my marriage, Nita,
and how much I love my new life in two countries,
but the real reason," I beam irresistibly at a
dog walker with 8 dogs on leashes in the freezing
evening outside J J's window where we sit,
"is that I'm an orphan. It's over. They're
both dead." Her lids narrow her eyes to a slit
of half recognition. "I couldn't say this,"--there!
the waitress plunks two bowls of brilliant magenta
borscht, pierogi, and hunks of Challah
--"to just anybody,"--jewel heaps of food on formica
--only to you, who wouldn't censure me,
since you've witnessed me actually fantasize
chopping their heads from their necks from their limbs
to make a soup of the now dead Them to feed
the newly happily alive Me.

An old order is dimmed,
just as now the U.S., its old enemy
the U.S.S.R. vaporized, disarms itself,
nearly wondering what a century's fuss
was all about . . . what was my fuss about? (The wealth
of relief after decades of distrust,
makes you wonder why you did it, until
you remind yourself of how it was.)
But even a struggle to the death is levelled
in the afterlife of relief. A bevel
in the glass of America has connected
along a strip of this life to the window
of J J's restaurant connecting Nita and me, wed
to the night life on Second Avenue, though
in reflection only, the reflection that now perfectly
joins Ginsberg with his steamed vegetables
and us with our steamy borscht and pierogi
to the ice-pocked sidewalk, God's table,
full of passersby, pointing occasionally to Allen,
joined now by an Asian boy, but more often
just hurrying past in the cold as we eat
the food of a previous enemy
and find it brightly delicious--it is meet
and right so to do--in the world now ours,
the century's hours hurtling behind
like snow-wake off an empty dogsled.
Old friends, we rest, not talking, well fed,
since at this cold dark moment things are fine.

Molly Peacock, president of The Poetry Society of America, has published three books of poetry: And Live Apart (Missouri, 1980), Raw Heaven (Random House, 1984), and Take Heart (Random House, 1989). Her fourth book, Original Love (W.W. Norton Company), due out in 1995, will include this poem. Peacock has taught at Hopkins and Columbia University, and currently resides in Toronto and New York.

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