Waitzman’s Magnum Opus — Sailing to Haverstraw Bay

This week the Rockland County Times’ award-winning poet Harry Waitzman shares with readers his magnum opus “Sailing to Haverstraw Bay.” The exploration of local scenes, scents and landscape was completed March 23, 1992.

 

Sailing to Haverstraw Bay

Harry Waitzman

 

Sullen speak the streets

slanting up from Haverstraw Bay,

the houses of tilted brick

the narrow lanes paved with accents.

Overhead rain clouds

skid across the sky

kept from falling clean

by thick columns of smoke.

 

Power company smokestacks

puncture the yellow horizon.

A giant hide of aluminum flexes.

Concealed furnaces fume red,

boiling steam mad. Turbines snort

fly ash and sulphur peppering

white temple clouds black.

 

I drove to Haverstraw to meet

a client in Tucks Bar annex

to the Village Court. He denies

stealing his girlfriends checks,

his alibi witness to forgery

the woman barkeep, wipes.

beer glasses with a rag

and grin. Above her glasses

stacked upside down shine

in the pink glow of T.V.

The taly barkeep too busy to talk

sloshes misery down the sink

sponges memories with detergents

pours a drink that chills the years.

 

Next door in garden apartments

Puerto Rican kids scramble

down the stairs tripping into adults;

Welfare checks cuddle and warm

the bleak bedroom with open

curtainless windows.

 

From the sidewalk

my telescopic eyes

see through the rooms

and squeals enlarging

the statues and Jesus wallpaper

excusing sins and cockroaches.

 

This brickmaker village of brogues and brawn

died in the fifties. First the young moved on.

Financiers rustled the West Shores passenger

tracks. The station bristling with brass

spittoons and upright benches was sold

and became a lawyers office.

 

Oldtimers rest their blarney bones

in the cemetery of Legion beflagged

crosses nailed near Hi Tor. Surging below

the Hudson cools the crypts

weighing on the fevered brow

of the parish priest.

His flock of lost sheep

wander in marble pasture

a short limo ride from St. Peters.

 

My client grips reality

by holding onto a beer glass

with sweaty fingers.

He grasps the bar stool

with his knees, afraid

he might fall off

and down on dry land.

 

Glassy eyed, he denies his guilt

“She was my girlfriend,

I took her checks with permission

cashing them with the barkeep

She knew my Cookie. Ask her!

Cookie only got mad when I said

No! to marriage.

How can I, with my rap sheet?”

 

My client raises his eyes feeling proud

after his gusty reply,

after his refusal to cop a plea.

He’s only guilty of searching

for his earthly paradise – a bed

a broad and a few dollars

in his pocket. I say I’ll plead him

not guilty, and he cries.

He turns his eyes towards

the onrushing river and remembers

and Army stockade and bar girls in Korea.

 

He drifts out of the bar a free man

without a compass or rudder

and goes to search with Henry Hudson

for the secret passage

beyond Haverstraw Bay

opening doors to the treasured orient.

Cathays riches and Japans geishas

gleam and rustle above Poughkeepsie’s

lights. But the Great Wall of China

surrounds him.