“The human capacity to stain cannot be overcome by Mr. Clean.”
A Diver for the NYPD Talks to His Girlfriend
I can't even see my hands in front of my face
through the darkness—mud, raw sewage,
black clouds of who knows what,
gas and oil leaking out of all the cars
that have been shoved into the river.
But my hands have learned to see,
sliding sideways down wrinkled concrete,
over slime coated rocks, broken glass, plastic bags,
barbed wire, as if there were a tiny eye
at the end of each finger. There are sponges down there
shaped like puffed-up lips, with silky tentacles
that retract at my touch. For some reason all the grocery carts
in the city are making their way to the bottom of the river.
Did I tell you about the body wrapped in plastic
and chains, and the pile of pistols, rifles,
enough to start a gun shop? Once, looking for a missing
Piper Cub, we found it next to a trainer
from World War Two, both parked side by side
as if waiting for permission to take off.
People throw strange things in the river,
I don't know, some kind of voodoo—jars
filled with pig eyes, chickens with their throats slit
stuffed into burlap sacks. Everything—TVs, couches,
lamps, phone books—is down there—if we ever grow gills
and live in the river we'll have whatever we need.
Today it was a fishing boat missing five days.
Easy to find now by a certain odor that seeps
through our wet suits that we call corpse soup.
The fishermen were sitting in the cabin, bloated hands
drifting as if they were swapping stories.
We tied them together and rose toward the surface
in a slow spiral. Once, I was feeling around in the dark
for this drowned lady, I was about to go back,
to call it a day, when her arms shot up
and grabbed me tight, round my waist.
Even when we're out of the river there's more water,
bath, shower, bath, shower, disinfectant, rinse—
but I never feel clean. Everything seems dirty: crowds
in the market, car horns, alarms, the barking of dogs.
by Richard Garcia
from Touching the Fire;
Doubleday, NY, 1998