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
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
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