Fake Island, Flat bush ( a gentri fication )

by Sadie r. Starnes

through a stained glass window
above a blank marquee
Christ washes black ruby plums
turning them blue then yellow then green

Pits & ash—black markets barter black bags that swing along slow feet to avoid the gaping deadface Os in the lava-pocked sidewalk. Jerked chicken and white rolls are stitched into the tarpitched streets along Church avenue, bread-lining towards the dustpan cathedral—its bowing gravestones brandish round Edwards with the wrong letters. f for s, s for f, and slanting towards Flatbush—a bright crimson door : HOT LUNCH ON SATURDAY. Becon and Egg. Our Christ and Egg. A tiny silver bell announces Chopin nocturnes, shaved ice, strawberry syrup and plasticine.

Summer solstice finds the petticoat of every pop song parading between bulla buns. A city of heat and nausea rimmed with salt. The air is flat champagne and it’s hard to feel hungry in direct sunlight. The chicken lady keeps asking what kind of gravy—all I can think to say from the slippery crevice of my place in line is yes, yes, ok. I see oxtail on the menu. I see a yarmulke and get disoriented.

The joke goes that there is enough excess flesh here to populate another town. It is sucked and warped and sutured between bands and belts and nylon. It’s colored and glittered and oiled. Thin or fat, the skin on the back of the thighs ripples under the heat. Breasts droop with warm exhaustion, drawn by the equator.

The apartment is six floors up in a building of chalk-chafed green. On the first floor the super’s wife plays music to drown out the babies—dos gardenias para ti. In the foyer, between bleached posters of BILBAO and ROMA and TORONTO, an island has formed of paper azalea and plastic palm trees. Margarito and Ceci are buffing the floors again, merging continents again. Si, si, okay. The little island floats in its soap silt sea, breaking shore against the hallway mirror—twin islands, a shelved Atlantic.

On the top floor, a tuxedo kitten has made enemies of the disabled cockroach under a parched fern—not one of them has been outside. Between sleep and food and hysteria, she milks life from the windowsill: the caulk-choked chimneys, a brownstone losing face, a pistol-whipped ice cream man, the death of a fat pigeon. From Tierra de Fuego you can see Antarctica. From the fire escape you can see Manna-hatta.

Night falls are hotter and the helicopters arrive to become a lively moon as they finger searchlights between the buildings—here’s a knife opening an envelope, a dirty love letter in bad English. There’s someone connecting wires on the building below us that quickly finds a shadow, but the fake moon bobs around the kiddie pool in attendance. The cat paws at her sudden reflection and I have forgotten the toilet paper.

It’s dark, so I fondle my pocket for the large black can of pepper spray—a dangerous whiteboard marker. People limp about on the streets, swaddled in clothing too big or too small, pushing strollers, carts, pills and margins. The cops are always 20 feet above us anticipating a crumb. Muffled headphones mix with discount store speakers, tone deaf traffic and a million idiot radio DJs—an incoherent chorus of low-dumb-buzzing-fucking NO. Women scream at blank faced men who only retaliate towards strangers. Children are tossed around by the elbow and shirt collar. Marble eyes wheel—nothing is understood. I slip on an oil-slick banana peel in front of Kings Theater and feel hateful. Slack-jawed cicadas.

Retreating, I hold the door for the neighbors. An elderly woman and a small girl, tiny gold hoops in every ear. A black bag full of too soft mangoes swings by one perfectly arched finger. Our elevator descends on a delta. They watch with the same lambent eyes—old and wise and quiet—that have seen real islands.