by Grace Schulman

Squinting through eye-slits in our balaclavas,   
we lurch across Washington Square Park   
hunched against the wind, two hooded figures   
caught in the monochrome, carrying sacks
of fruit, as we’ve done for years. The frosted, starch-
stiff sycamores make a lean Christmas tree
seem to bulk larger, tilted under the arch
and still lit in three colors. Once in January,
we found a feather here and stuffed the quill   
in twigs to recall that jay. The musical fountain   
is here, its water gone, a limestone circle
now. Though rap succeeds the bluegrass strains
we’ve played in it, new praise evokes old sounds.   
White branches mimic visions of past storms;
some say they’ve heard ghosts moan above this ground,   
once a potter’s field. No two stones are the same,
of course: the drums, the tawny pears we hold,   
are old masks for new things. Still, in a world   
where fretted houses with façades are leveled   
for condominiums, not much has altered
here. At least it’s faithful to imagined
views. And, after all, we know the sycamore
will screen the sky in a receding wind.
Now, trekking home through grit that’s mounting higher,
faces upturned to test the whirling snow,
in new masks, we whistle to make breath-clouds form   
and disappear, and form again, and O,   
my love, there’s sun in the crook of your arm.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Grace Schulman is the author many acclaimed books of poetry, including Days of Wonder: New and Selected Poems (where “Crossing the Square” appears), a Library Journal Best Book of the Year. For her poetry she has received a Guggenheim fellowship, the Aiken-Taylor Award, the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Award, New York University’s Distinguished Alumni Award, and three Pushcart prizes. Schulman is a distinguished professor of English at Baruch College, CUNY. She is a former director of the Poetry Center (1978-1984) and a former poetry editor of The Nation (1971-2006).

Photo: “Washington Square Park” (New York City, 1/26/2011) by Helen Jones Florio, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED