October, 2001

Poetry

Apparitions

Sprout Illustration

I am accustomed to ghosts presenting themselves in Manhattan.

Somewhere we have an old picture of a building standing in the Washington Street produce market. On the building were two signs.  A tiny one, for a tiny company, had my family name on it.

A giant sign with the name General Produce on it dominated.  That was once a big company in the market.

My father liked that picture.

Because many years later he bought General Produce.  “The minnow swallowed the whale,” he used to exclaim.

The city sent the market to the Bronx in 1967 and since then, if you walk on Washington Street and you are an old produce man, you can’t really see the modern housing projects and other buildings where the market once stood.  A produce man walks the street and sees buildings that just aren’t there anymore.

As all of us do, now, just a walk south of that market where the towers once stood.

Who can look at the skyline and not see them there?

When I was still a boy and the World Trade Center had just opened, my parents took me to have dinner at Windows on the World.

And I remember how upsetting it was that, though we pressed against the windows, we couldn’t see anything because the clouds were so dense.  It was like the windows were painted white.  Nobody could see out.

Now you can’t see in.

At Windows, they used to serve the salt and pepper in these tiny ceramic dishes with very delicate little spoons.  I took my friend from Cincinnati, today a great physicist, but then just a college freshman like myself, and I wanted to show him the big city.  He was more impressed with those little spoons than with all the wonders of New York.

I guess they are in the rubble now, ground to dust, like so many people and so many dreams.

Where the market once stood, there are homes and schools and offices and new dreams.  They are precious, but they are not mine.

I’ll remember going down with my Dad on an early weekend morning so he could pick up some papers or catch up on some work.

I’ll remember the custodian who told me he wouldn’t take a vacation lest someone learn he was expendable.  That is my Washington Street.

And whatever they build where the towers once stood will surely be filled with life.  And there will be arguments and discussions and babies born, and it will be real, and I’ll show it to my children and grandchildren and they won’t really understand when I explain that whatever might be there now, I can only see twins in silhouette.

by Jim Prevor