My first time in Manhattan I was amazed,
walking down Madison from the Park.
Yellow cabs and subway trains from A to Z
I knew – but there were buses, a plenitude,
most seemingly destined not for The Bronx
or The Bowery but White Plains.
My ignorance pictured some far distant place,
almost Arthurian, in the Mid-West,
from where travellers might never return.
This was the city of Sipowicz,
Homicide Detective and Everyman;
of lives wasted in the garish, pulsing streets,
in the brownstone apartments of the rich,
the challenged, and the modest; a city
of small victories for humanity,
of humble, humbling journeys of the soul.
This was the city of, at least, one
genius on every other corner.
J. Robert Oppenheimer was born
on Riverside Drive. Enrico Fermi,
exiled, researched at Columbia.
Albert Einstein’s letter to Roosevelt
tick-tocked in a safe in a skyscraper,
opposite City Hall, where five thousand
civil servants clocked-in covertly.
The uranium was warehoused near the port.
Brighter than a thousand suns, the bomb’s fulgent,
multitudinous clouds wasted what they touched.
White Plains is a suburb twenty miles north
of mid-town. There is a Bloomingdale’s,
a Macy’s. It occupies earth bought
with beads by immigrants, who named it
for the groves of white balsam they felled,
the river mists drifting.