At the Frick


I


On the way to the Frick we stop at the construction site.

The steel stands at attention.

The steel the strikers made.

My son’s face grilled by the shadows of the bars.

Can I be a worker?

He counts the floors.

Are we workers?

He cries; a worker hands him his bear.

He’s a bear and his name is bear!

Children have no imagination.



II


At the Frick the guards stay in the castle.

Outside the grandmothers have taken charge.

This is their world: elegance a thing you walk into.


I think of my own grandmother, alone in the garden.

Her last visit.

She said everything looked like Portrait of Carlotta from Vertigo.

On the other coast we’d climbed Carlotta’s hills, caught the streetcar.

She was eighty then. Kim Novak is eighty now.


At the Frick, alone in the garden, my grandmother wore a grey suit,

like the one Jimmy Stewart made Kim Novak wear.

We caught the bus downtown and talked about The Group.

My people, she said. My sweet old college girls.

She said there’s nothing but freedom, so close to the end.

No one tells you how to think.

No one remembers what you remember.



III


At the Frick, alone in the garden, a boy breathes through his beard.

The air is clear but it hurts him.

He is eighteen and he is eighty and it’s 1892 and

Alexander Berkman, born Ovsei Osipovich, is twenty-two.


In the Old World Berkman read Fathers and Sons and What Is to Be Done?

In the New World Emma Goldman runs a luncheonette in Buffalo.

In the New World Carnegie runs a finger across a brim,

dispatches Frick to break the strike at Homestead.


In the New World Berkman breathed the way this boy breathes.

Hair burnt with Pinkerton blood.

He came for Frick with a bowler hat, a knife, a gun.

Every penny spent for ourselves was so much taken from the Cause.


Frick was at a meeting.

Like a rabbi, the receptionist sent him away three times.


Like a Jew, three times Berkman came back.

He didn’t use the gun but he used the knife three times.

Declined a lawyer. Twenty-one in Western Penitentiary.

One in the workhouse.

Luxury is a crime, a weakness.



IV


We’re not going to the Frick, my son and I.

The old survivor’s directions engraved above the door:

No backpacks, oversized umbrellas. No children under ten.

It’s ok mommy. We’ll come another day.


His voice is someone else’s voice.

Someone else is speaking.

My voice is a stranger’s voice.


“The very arrival of a letter is momentous,”

Berkman wrote from prison.

“It brings a glow into the prisoner’s heart.”


The second time he went to jail was with Emma.

The war was on.

This is the shape of things:

You go once for the killing,

Twice for the refusal to kill.

He’d learned what Emma knew:

his cruelty could not compete.

Cruelty builds castles and coins and doesn’t consider.

The cruelty you cultivate is no cruelty at all.



V


On the sidewalks of the Frick

The cement spills at our feet.

The haze remelts.


A ringed hand reaches: someone else’s grandmother in a green jacket.

Judy’s green; the green that comes from Salinas with a suitcase.

The green that makes the steel.

Green waits for ceramic coins.


The mantle clock. The stitched chairs guarded with rope.

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