Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Mark Dow

Mondongo is Not a Soup

          On the D train to Coney Island, a little girl whose black patent leather shoes with heart-shaped buckles on them do not reach the floor sneezes on her green helium-filled balloon. She stares at it, shakes it, then finds the corner of the coat she's wearing and wipes the balloon. Then she wipes it again, with her hand. Then she rests her chin on it. Her father reads aloud to her mother from Your First Year in Network Marketing: "Here's a typical scenario," and reaches up to tap away the balloon, which is now touching his head. The girl is still holding the attached strand of green ribbon. He reads, "There are three kinds of apples -- the red, the green, and the rotten." He has a New York Lottery gym bag on his lap.
          At La Taza de Oro on 8th Avenue near 15th Street, there is a rotary pay phone near the entrance. The action in the dial is liquid, hydraulic, leisurely, and greasy to the touch. At the far end of the counter, a big man, in charge, stands near the kitchen entrance and uses an ordinary table knife to cut -- to push, really -- bite-size pieces of under-ripe avocado onto one bed of lettuce at a time. Then he slices a white onion and puts one slice, separating its concentric rings without breaking them apart, on top of each avocado mound, and puts each plate into the refrigerator case. Across the counter, a young waiter mutters to himself, then says aloud that he ordered "dos sopas de mondongo" and where are they? The older man corrects him: "Dos mondongo: mondongo no es una sopa."
          At Mooney's Bar on Flatbush, a black man asks if I'm from "the colonies." Then he asks if I smoke marijuana and adds, "I'm not a cop. I'm a construction worker." He offers to let me feel his hands. The pear blossoms in the spring sunshine glow, seemingly bursting with fat. A closer look and the bubbles are imperfect hemispheric constellations of 8-10 small flowers each. An even closer look and the tiny pistils are purple. On 7th Avenue in Park Slope, a woman walks with a yellow umbrella open. Three women from the colonies watch her.
          "Maybe she knows something we don't."
          "Maybe she forget. Maybe where she comin' from it's rainin'."
          At the 23rd Street station on the 1/9 line, downtown side, a young white woman with an English accent says to the man in the token booth: "You do have the power to do something about it," and repeatedly calls him "arsehole." After passing through the turnstile, she sits on a bench with her face in her hands and cries. At the 28th Street station on the N/R line, downtown side, a middle-aged brown-skinned man glares at the man in the token booth and yells, making a trilling sound in his throat, "You! BAAAAAA! Fucking goat!"
          Two men, one pushing, one pulling, move a jet-ski chassis down the sidewalk and around the corner of Carroll and 4th Avenue, leaving a white, chalk-like, curved, double line. An eighteen-wheeler flatbed takes a turn fast, bouncing its cargo of engine blocks secured atop a bed of tires. Two girls, one holding a folded slice of pizza, approach portable toilets, one of which is padlocked, in Prospect Park. Thirteen monosyllables:
          "I went in there once and they trapped me in there."
          "I won't."

Mark Dow's poems and prose have appeared in Mudlark, Nthposition, Fascicle, Boston Review, LIT, Conjunctions, Green Integer Review (translations from Buenos Aires). He also wrote a book called American Gulag: Inside US Immigration Prisons (California 2004).