Weekly Feature: Poetry at The Arts Fuse

Welcome to “Poetry at The Arts Fuse.” A new poem, every Thursday.

Things to do on the Lower East Side in the late 70s and 80s.  (excerpt)


Walk into a strong wind with Mom

         and feel like we’re about to be blown away


Hear the way Dolphy says “chump”.

         “What’s up, chump?”


Hear Leroy say, “Hey, alriiight” in his deep vocal tone,

             after your squeaky high pitched

                         voice has said “Hi, Leroy!”


Sit on the stoop with Dad.

              When an attractive woman has passed by

he says, “Look at her, Eddie!  Woo-woo!”

             You giggle but this really has nothing to do with you.


Make friends with Min and Linda, two women from Minnesota

               who live down the hall. They have a pet rat,

named Jenny-Enny-Dots. One day a rat appears in our apartment.

               We ask them if it’s Jenny, but they say no. Dad

sends us out, we walk around the block, but Mom is concerned to leave

               him alone too long. We return and poet Hannah

Wieners is standing there, giggling and sweeping. Dad has tried to kill

               the rat with fire and water. It is currently

being slow chased around the leg of the kitchen table by the cat,

              who will not attack it.  There’s a knock on the door,

it’s Min and Linda. “We can’t find Jenny!” They hold out a nacho chip

               and say, “Here Jenny, Jenny,” the rat runs out from under

the oven, jumps into Linda’s hands and they leave. The apartment smells

                like burnt paper and there is a puddle of water on the floor.


Tell Dolphy you’re a poet.  He asks you to recite a poem. You are shy

             and say you don’t remember any. He pointedly recites

a multi-verse rhyming ballad about the virtues of being a red head

             versus being bald. He completes it by pointing at you

smiling, and walking away.


Hear the neighborhood kid, Lawrence, as he yells “An-SOME!

              An-SOME! Come down!” at the third floor window.

Sometimes the downstairs neighbor, Byron, does the same.

               Byron introduces you to porno and to rap music,

He stays up til midnight listening to WBLS and tapes the programs,

                playing them for you later. “DJ Red Alert going

Berserk-serk-serk.”   “BSK we’re making that green, people always saying

               what the hell does that mean.”


You start taking guitar lessons at the 3rd Street Music School,

            which for some reason is on 11th Street. The teacher

is kind, patient, and you enjoy the lessons. One day Byron invites

             you over to watch a porno on VHS, and you decline because

you have a guitar lesson.  You leave the apartment and walk

             towards First Avenue. Byron is coming the other way,

pointing at you with one hand and cackling into the other.


          You are a kid, so you can talk to all neighbors

with impunity. You are sitting outside in the restaurant downstairs

         with a neighbor, Adam Roth, a musician.

He looks up and says, “There’s Thurston,” and calls out

        “Hey Thurston!”  A tall guy turns around

and waves.  “That’s Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth …

         that might be the whole band with him.”

You don’t know who these people are and you don’t care.

        Adam offers to give you an ice cream

bar that’s in his freezer, if you go write a poem and show it

        to him.  You agree, knowing that you already have

several poems, so you just grab one of those and show it to

      him, and return victorious with ice cream.


When you see Adam later in life being filmed for a music video,

        he tells the person next to him that he

once got you to write a poem by offering you ice cream.

        When you see Thurston later in life,

he tells you that he used to see your dad talking to

        admiring young poets on the street corner

near Gem Spa, and thought he was a cult leader.


Edmund Berrigan is the author of More Gone (City Lights, 2019). Other books include We’ll All Go Together (Further and Fewer, 2015) and Can It! (Letter Machine Editions, 2014).  Berrigan is co-editor with Anselm Berrigan, Alice Notley, and Nick Sturm of Get the Money (Collected Prose 1961-1983) by Ted Berrigan (City Lights, 2022).

Note: Hey poets! We seek submissions of excellent poetry from across the length and breadth of contemporary poetics. See submission guidelines here. The arbiter of the feature is the magazine’s poetry editor, John Mulrooney.

Arts Fuse editor Bill Marx

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  1. Ruth Lepson on July 13, 2023 at 7:37 pm

    nice–makes you want to keep reading & reading & reading. he can’t help being hip since he is in that family and in that place but it doesn’t sound like he’s bragging. it’s a short story as a poem meaning it’s a kind of poem.

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