1967, New York City, East River

From Jackson Pollock, I had learned to hate
Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus

those white, white sheets—
thrown back covers

of the breakers’ unmade bed, and Venus
uncombed, unkempt, always just

decanted from sleep, that hair—
a serpentine peignoir tossed across her shoulders—

I scrubbed my palette down to nothing
but the colors of wash water and zinc bucket

and embraced the iron light
between Broadway and Bowery,

and, beneath the streetlights,
the junkies, fellow bees in a hive of misery—

I loved my oppression,
walked Cherry Street to the docks and

—there—washed out,
dreamy, creepy,

drowned in her last experiment,
was a rat—

the dry clove of her eye glaring up.
If I bent down I would see

into the broken
hive of bones—

I did not look at her
staring at me from the window of her underworld.

About death
I didn’t give a damn.

I believed my hand
could open any lock.

And even if not,
as I forged ahead,

I did not once look back.