“I saw Jesus in the Project.”—Richard Pryor

Every street corner is Christmas Eve
in downtown Newark. The magi walk
in black overcoats hugging a fifth
of mentholated spirits, and hookers hook
nothing from the dark cribs of doorways.
A crazy king breaks a bottle in praise
of Welfare, “I’ll kill the mother-fucker”
and for black blocks without work
the sky is full of crystal splinters.

A bus breaks out of the mirage of water;
a hippo in wet streetlights, and grinds on
in smoke, every shadow seems to stagger
under the fiery acids of neon
wavering like a piss, some l.tt.rs miss-
ing, extinguished, except for two white
nurses, their vocation made whiter
in darkness. It’s two days from elections.

Johannesburg is full of starlit shebeens.
It is Anti-American to make such connections.
Think of Newark as Christmas Eve,
when all men are your brothers, even
these, bring peace to us in parcels,
let there be no more broken bottles in heaven
over Newark, let it not shine like spit,
on a doorstep, think of the evergreen
apex with the gold star over it
on the day-glo bumper-sticker a passing car sells.

Daughter of Your Own Son, Mother and Virgin,
great is the sparkle of the high-priced firmament
in acid puddles, the gold star in store-windows,
and the yellow star on the night’s moth-eaten sleeve
like the black coat He wore through blade-thin elbows
out of the ghetto into the cattle-train
from Warsaw; nowhere is His coming more immanent
than downtown Newark where three lights believe
the starlit cradle and the evergreen carols
to the sparrow-child, a black coat-flapping urchin
followed by a white star as a police-car patrols.

This Issue

December 20, 1984