John Michael Flynn


I’m going to take you, River, as you took Kelly in Cummington. Go ahead, laugh all you want. I know Whitman, Lorca and Ginsburg were here first and you devoured them. I don’t care. I carry the Wandering O’Hara gene. I have my lyrical impulses to prove and my mother to honor into sainthood. If the city is mine it’s because the city is this moment and I’ll die if I don’t roar about it in your wake.

Faces rush past me, ripping off my ears. I stop to sniff for you as I study a poster for a revival of Godot in Chelsea. Sex toys for sale in a window. Lube by the gallon. This isn’t you. I walk west down 22nd Street and I see myself as a kitten with its saucer of milk on a fire escape. Innocence and the sordid collides. Dildo rhymes with meadow. Wordplay, River, won’t dance my soul away from seizing you.

I see myself again inside the last of the 20th in a diner window on Tenth Avenue. You and I both know this diner is soon to be museum piece, a modernist installation. Art. What a laugh. I can’t afford art. Neither can you. Yet it remains our luxurious guilty pleasure.

Nor can I afford this yearning toward your currents and all the profundity I uncover in the average person’s daily and gritty resistance to failure. There’s a realist and a dreamer in me, River, and they both say that poverty and work aren’t crimes. They can’t be helped. They’re as necessary as you are. You knew this. You saw so much of yourself in me.

I hunt your ghosts, River, in the shallows of each alley I venture to penetrate. I stumble across your old friends Hubert Selby and Kenneth Fearing. How they roared back when men wore prideful Stetsons, pumped gas for a living, fought wars in Germany and lived to eat sandwiches from an Automat. Nobody listened much then, either.

Flynn, you tell me, keep one step ahead of the pricks out there.

River, you’re a lion, a shadow within shadows and you knew this city as a stickball yard, choice of peep shows, joyrides with a beer on the ferry to Staten Island. You knew a Jewish intellectual formalist mentor in Shapiro, the two of you a pair of chummy vets together making the Village scene back when it mattered that a River could not only sing but count scansion.

You wandered, River, before Eisenhower built the highways. Penned that Whitmanesque love song to America and your crossing, thumb out, to find your buddy Eberhardt and flood with him a hill above the Puget Sound.

Me and Richard, you say, we wrote our poems while we watched them build Seattle.

I see your cherubic face in the dank windows of an Irish tap and I wonder how long before this bar disappears and all of your riverfront life from dockwollopers to Eugene O’Neill becomes gentrified, clean and respectable.

I drift east and uptown to see you in the leer of a big-bellied vendor in apron at a magazine stand, in the hot steam that fogs the neon above a sizzling sausage grill, and in the fumes that leak from a manhole seam.

River, little has changed when it comes to the frothing discontent of the straphangers chasing their dimes. One glance after another, I see them busted, bent and zapped – their bodies speeded along through grim blocks scented with a python’s treacherous ambition.

Life remains a subway ride to nowhere on a Saturday afternoon in the rain. The Beast, Number One, north to south and back again. I’m on it. I’m riding. I’ll find you, River. I’ll better you. I’ll devour you. I’ve an exploding cigar in my pocket. A craving that defies gravity.

I’m open to it all and dwarfed.

Process Notes: “This poem grew out of a need to honor specific mentors, a city bordered by rivers, the inexorable passing of time, a passion for the mid-century era, and the ephemeral nature of existence that so intrigues and frustrates me.”

John Michael Flynn’s newest book, Keeper Meet Questing Eyes, is due out in early summer, 2014, from Leaf Garden Press ( He lives in Virginia. He can be found on the web at:

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