On the Edge of Chinatown by Tara Deal
A bit of scaffolding falls off some pink building. A tangerine bag blows up. The report says gusts are going to get worse. A painter at the intersection takes his easel and watercolors inside: ochre, fuchsia, mint green, maybe. I can’t see everything. Someone pulls fake frogs from the pond, that is, pool. One crane falls, and one skyscraper turns emerald. No loitering to smell blue roses in buckets. The window washers must stop before the storm starts. That work takes forever, back and forth, erase a streak, remove a line of water. Ripples through silk ties on carts, roasted nuts. Three for a dollar. What more do you want? Yellow umbrellas thin as paper. They look like flowers, flames, lanterns. Don’t smoke on the fire escape. Someone fell to her death last week. I think she jumped. End of her rope. Was she a painter? Should she have been? What about a poet? Think about Keats. You know what I’m saying. Old books from the sidewalk. Someone always takes them. I wonder if she had any favorites, that woman who slipped. What did she love? Who? Who knows. What did she crave? Is her room for rent? What struggle to escape? Who will take her strands, strings, pearls? Souvenirs, maybe. Urns. Memento mori. Sugar skulls from Oaxaca are still in the cabinet. Florentine stationery floats in drawers. Where have you been? London Bridge, Spanish Steps. Who can remember everything? (At the cemetery in Rome: Keats’s headstone: Here lies one whose name was writ in water.) The gargoyles across the street are grinning. The city hawks are circling, circling and repeat. What more do you want from me? I’d paint a picture if I could, with Permanent Magenta and Transparent Maroon. The paint store says Discover—Shop—Connect. But I’d need a large, old loft off Canal Street with wooden floors, tin ceilings, scorched toaster, fat dumplings, black tea. That’s not going to happen, is it? Those old buildings have such leaky windows. And then they tear them down, brick by brick. They do that work by hand, if you can believe it. Someone sprays the sidewalk. Someone prays for rain. Who cares? Who can. Ducks hang in the window for dinner. Golden, greasy. Sold out. Too late. Sidewalks look slick. Do you want to order in? I know a Japanese restaurant with paper lanterns and handmade ceramics. And then: single spray of yellow flower, one cone of incense, long gone, gray-green. Do you know what I mean? Do you know where it is? But that’s another neighborhood entirely. Outside of our zone for delivery.
Tara Deal is the author of That Night Alive, winner of the 2016 novella prize from Miami University Press. Her previous book, Palms Are Not Trees After All, won the 2007 novella prize from Texas Review Press. www.taradeal.com
photo by Joanna Kosinska