I had my poetic license in the back pocket of my blue jeans. And miles to go, miles of snow, a transfigured night and all in sight covered in a winding sheet of white.
Stopping at a snowy Ninth Avenue, face and hands wrapped against the wind, I contemplated the divide before me. Ice-crystals glittered in streetlights and snow fenced sidewalks. The city streets were deserted, and I was alone in the canyoned silence. On the avenue’s arctic slope, deep within the haunting sound of a muted city I could hear gypsy cabs snorting dragon-breath in the dark, and I would have stayed to watch fringes of icicles on fire escapes glow in the dying light. *
Crossing Ninth Avenue, I heard the wolf howl in the wind. Into a gap hacked in frozen snow I pioneered westward to a narrow trail leading past four- and five-story buildings. Snow camel-backed on parked cars. Bare choirs of trees fell silent, only ticking now and then in frozen despair,* until a faint glow, just the slightest cinematic glimmer, fell on the crooked path. I leaned back, one hand on a rack of ice, to see above me a living painting: a red brick building with tall arched windows of earth and sky-colored glass, indigo peaked gables and copper crosses with a green patina springing from a luminous, roiling gray sky.
Double wooden plank doors painted in vertical stripes of chipped and tattered red, white, and blue were shuttered against the cold and any vagrants or visitors who might venture in. Hiking up the steps, kicking footholds in rime-encrusted snow, I peered through wire netting at an empty stairway to heaven. Tracking again through Technicolor traces from the lighted windows, I discovered a second set of steps and a brightly lit hallway. A bare bulb in a metal cage hung above the steps. I looked up and down the street of tenements and brownstones, and on windowsills and steps festooned with snow, there was no other light.
A royal blue and white plaque with a strident red cross sparked through a crust of frost: Welcome to St. Clement’s.
On the far side of a railing, steps led to a single recessed arch, and winding down and up again, I began knock-knocking-knocking on heaven’s door.
A small round bell bolted to the brick caught my eye. I heard the buzz resound and die. *
Richard Spiegel, the director of the Poetry Festival at St. Clement’s, opened the door. “Mary?”
In his early thirties, Richard’s long, wavy chestnut hair and trimmed beard shone with a soft gleam of mahogany and substrata strands of red.
I stepped inside. “I promised I’d come one day.” My eyes pulsated with red and white light as I thawed from the glacial trek.
I was one of only three. We read wine-poetry and drank red wine in chipped cups from St. Clement’s kitchen.
This is the first part of a memoir, Into The Fire: A Poet’s Journey through Hell’s Kitchen, by Mary Clark. All rights reserved.