Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2018  Vol. 17 No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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Goodbye, Piccadilly
I am the woman in this house. None other.
—Toni Morrison

In its place a Marriott Marquis the width of Broadway.
Poured concrete, beveled siding, brown glass flanking
a twenty-four-hour parking garage. Nineteen hundred

air-conditioned rooms complete with coffee makers,
thirty-two-inch flat-screen TVs, and movies on demand.
A multilingual staff stands by to assist with dry cleaning.

When the Piccadilly closed, Mrs. Mack picked up work
at the Drake, then the Waldorf. All those years on my feet,
she said, now a half hour’s thirty minutes too long. She eyed

the fruit salad we’d brought, still in its Tupperware,
then me. Next time just bring something for the cats.
It was late spring; a rose bush bloomed along

the fenced-in lot where someone had left a carousel horse
propped like a Santa Claus amid the ragweed.
We sat out on her stoop, the two of us and Mrs. Mack,

talking about the airport noise, about Malcolm’s house
across the street and the tenants who live there still—
the old man who couldn’t leave his bed, the daughter

who should have held the service in the neighborhood.
Her son bought the house next door, Mrs. Mack said.
It should have been here. I asked again about Guyana

and the view of the Atlantic along the seawall,
but then a young girl, no more than ten, with twists in her hair,
stopped stone-still in front of the low gate that marked

Mrs. Mack’s walkway as if caught in a game
of freeze tag, and sang out in her soft voice, Hello, Mrs. Mack,
then lowered her eyes. I see you, Crystal,

Mrs. Mack answered. Tell your mom I see you. Go on,
and the girl ran off. And there’s so much I don’t know,
so much more, so let me be quiet a moment,

let someone else speak. I came to the US through
the agency. It was two years before I could leave,
the queues went out the door. All these women!

I got my green card, here, at the airport. Then I flew
to Baltimore, for a family in Glenn Dale.
Their house overlooked the farm. Corn in one season,

string beans the next. I took care of their boy, a smart boy,
whip smart, beautiful. He had blue eyes like yours,
fine blond hair. His mother, she had a condition.

She couldn’t hold him. She had to lie in bed
with a machine that made her muscles work.
These white people don’t know how to raise a boy.

I’m sorry, she said to me, but not to my wife.
I had to teach him how to stop wetting the bed.
I carried him into the bathroom after he fell asleep,

sat him down on the toilet, and turned on the water
until he peed. Every night. Stratified reproduction,
we might think, the idea that a mother’s labor

unspools like a film, determined by race and ethnicity,
gender and migration, that the work itself casts out like a net
to grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces and nephews,

a communal fostercare, but the mythic America
is my own blond boyhood, battered sneakers and uniforms,
and mile after mile of cut grass across the country.

We haven’t been back to see Mrs. Mack since her grandson’s
graduation. She said she’d stopped taking her insulin,
that her legs were worse each day. I said we’d be gone

until next spring, that I’d call from California.
I tried once, but she was too tired to talk. Lately,
I’ve been thinking of that young boy, of Clifford—

I hadn’t told you his name—who must be my age by now,
who inherited his father’s estate and still dreams of wind
at the edge of a sea. And I’m sure of my part in this story;

I know I’d be the fine hairs of that beautiful boy
and never the hand that strokes them. And I’m afraid.
I’m afraid I might not see her again. After Glenn Dale,

Mrs. Mack moved in with her half brother in Jamaica, Queens,
and started working the laundry rooms in those midtown
hotels, the Drake being her favorite—its stone facade,

the cherry trees in bloom. Presidents stayed at the Waldorf,
she told me. The Clintons, Obama. But not this one, no.
He’s got his own to sleep in.  

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