The Ghost of Elms

[New Haven, CT]


Hulks of desert-brown, Gothic buildings
pave the sky, overshadow a creamy
flood of Yale students drawn
by a chandelier sun. They sweep
by a beggar’s cardboard voice: “Veteran.
Please Help.” They dry out over the twin
Greens framed by the ghost of Elms
that made this “Elm City.” Mournful
cars crawl on Chapel Street. Days
circle the handsome churches, my power-red
Sentra splashes trap music at a picture-still
bus stop audience. On downer days, work is a red brick
hell and a lion’s mouth to a rarely employed
Employment Specialist like me. I park above
the wept on City in a spaceship
structure and dream about a world
with no health screens, no revelations
tonight, surveying the budding afros of trees.
I daydream of a world without
color. Just you and me writhing our way
out of a swamp of miseries, fueling each
other against an army of cancers
and hereditary diseases waiting for us
to grow into death. I dream
I dream and I’m late for work
when I finally float down. The chocolate
manager is anger fighting therapy. Therapy
wins and she says, “Good morning, Mr.
Jamaica…I see you’re dressed without
a jacket again. In this killer weather.”
Her smile sends heat down
my sides. Why do we love
the people we hate? But I say, “Thanks
for the worry. I’m enjoying
your hair.” The way the braids stream black
and brown and roll on each other
together. Like a future waterfall I want
to trip in. She flashes her hair and swerves
her Beyoncé curves away. We sense a bus
snake around a corner. Our offices
live across from the Peabody
Museum. A flying statue of a friendly dinosaur
guards the century-old get-up. Its giant
bat-like wings and spiky, cupola-big
teeth stir the imagination of children.
The museum’s body consists of lots of Gothic
bulk and not enough windows to let in the green
scene. The air freshener in my office brings up
a heavenly sour cherry garden in my memory
of Jamaica, my homeland, guarded
by a clear-voiced sea. I lock
and unlock my eyes to disappear
into calls and meetings about jobs, jobs,
jobs. The city cannot feed its poor
jobs. People empty their baggage in
my mind. Last night another boy
turned ghost with an alarming
bullet from a peer and you can hear
the buried mourning in our every sigh.
The new sea-bright Yale School of Management
is a mirror of opulence that reflects desperate
faces. Everybody wants to get into a heaven
called Yale to reap benefits.
Imagine a dining hall worker pausing
on the business school’s glassy
top to imbibe the crumbling face
of New Haven around Yale, the shanty
neighborhoods and mindless
beggars. My God. Let it go away.
The flood of heartrending city voices
that drown my hope of hope
every day. The man in my office now
says he died twice. Once when he was 15
and took 13 shots of liquor and fell
into a cloudy sleep. He said he didn’t hear
the paramedics cast a sheet over
his life and pronounced him a wrap,
hell bound before he woke
from death and his mother was barking
at the paramedics for playing
God. He smiles deep from a memory,
says heaven was going
on Oprah to tell the universe
his story. Ten years later the paranoia
of a drug dealer left him with three
bullets near his heart. He bled life
but rose again. One bullet
traveled through the earth
of his body and can be found today
buried inches from his spine. Death is
everywhere lurking. My next client
roars, a mother of four.
She rambles about being late
with her tax return, but “Yale doesn’t pay
taxes so why should my uncle?”
And “this jobs program isn’t doing
ish for me.” I let the sun bounce off
the brick and kiss my face. “I can only
refer you,” I say. She leans back, “Get me
into Yale.” I say, “100,000 apply
to heaven each year. Only 2000 get in
Yale.” She says, “I don’t care.
Where is your supervisor?”
God is not here.

Rayon Lennon