On the Avenue


I said to God (It was a windy day
and we were waiting for the light to change
on Fifty-ninth Street, where black coaches wait
for tourists, and dejected horses pay
little attention to the passing scene)
I said to God, "Look at these creatures: fate–
that is, Your will–stranded them on the dung
heap of this life. I'm sure You could arrange
something more suited to their speed and grace
than midtown tours and lunch out of a bag.
And while I have Your ear . . ."
            (The light was green
and we strolled on, The Plaza on our right,
and on our left, breakdancers)
            ". . . that gray hag
there, with her entourage of pigeons, face
like a map of madness, ankles blue
with body's riot thick in every vein,
is this what living earns, is this Your view
of what old age deserves? That boy, delight
miraculous in every move, performs
for shifting crowds, and having danced and sung
his hours away, scoops up his change and moves
along. Is this Your plan for us, the end
of miracles?
            I tell you as a friend,
but there are those who say the cosmos proves
You have grown callous to our sort of pain
and have, perhaps, forgot Your own. Or worse,
never did know the fleeting thing that warms
us wearers of flesh, and rule us from above
without the common hurt that couches love.
This is no way to run a universe."

God mulled His answer as we ambled south
in silence, past the shops, Bendel to Saks,
and then He turned to face me, and His mouth
released a spate of starlings, and a peal
of bells, and tiers of dressy shoes, and stacks
of books on sale at Doubleday, and rows
of steaming carts with shish kebabs, meat pies
and every meretricious face The Good
has ever worn.
            Ah, old slippery eel,
I thought, and laughed, what politician knows
how to embroider pseudo-argument
out of non-sequiturs like You?
            We should
be angry with You: Oh, the friends You take
like books borrowed forever, laws You make
and fail to keep, injuries You invent
to justify returning each sad prayer
to us unopened! But what's friendship for
if not forgiveness?
            So I let it pass,
indulged Him as He uttered fountains, grass,
Johann Sebastian on steel drums, and more
genial evasions.
            We resumed our walk,
trading impressions through the darkening air,
to the amusement of some two or three
who, disbelieving what the eye can't see,
missed God in the clear robe of His disguise
and, skeptical of solitary talk,
enjoyed my gestures, thinking me alone
above those skaters on their lake of stone.


Rhina P. Espaillat, Playing at Stillness, Truman State University Press, 2005.