Poem Written in a Cab

Alex Dimitrov

To the people
reading this poem, hello.
I want you to know
nothing bad will happen
as long as you’re here.
Every line you see
was written in a cab.
I’m on the FDR
in the middle of winter
and the sky is suddenly bluer
than Sundays in June.
There’s no reason for it.
No real science
to what will happen when
I get off at Chambers
and Broadway, wearing
gold and black sneakers
on my way to meet
a friend who is sad.
To my sad friends, hello.
For you I will be
a version of myself
I hardly remember.
I will be a lake
at the top of morning
some late afternoon into night.
And if you look away from
this page, to your right
there’s the world.
I am only trying to describe it.
I will likely disappoint you
like a long-awaited date
or like last call at a bar.
The people on Water Street
are leaving work now.
Walking to shops
and to restaurants
or of course to the water—
Manhattan, you are
my favorite island by far.
And I wouldn’t be a poet
if I didn’t tell you
about the bridges,
there are over two thousand here—
Brooklyn, Verrazzano,
George Washington—
partial hyperbole, partial admission:
I live here for the bridges at night.
It’s been so long
since I’ve taken a vacation
and some days I think,
how is that even possible,
how is this even my life?

I thought I’d be happier
and more handsome,
certainly better loved
and more stable
this late in the day.
But the secret with me
(as I’m sure with you too)
is that everyone thinks
I am fine. Doing great!
What’s the point
of saying otherwise
really. It’s so gauche
and betrays a self-pity
that probably means
you aren’t getting laid.
The mood in Union Square
reminds me of a feeling
I once felt in 1995.
The park looks perfect
and deceptively true.
A gorgeous blond
is smoking a joint
and reading, not
waiting for anyone
and refusing to look up.
Maybe he will
but it just doesn’t
seem like today
is the day to get
his attention.
He’s already turning
the page and so focused,
whatever he’s reading
it’s all that he is.
And just so you know
we’re in a different cab now,
in another month
with better weather—
goodbye to the past!
It’s important
to look at something
you can’t have
at least once a day.
Like the blond
a few lines up.
Perhaps you should
even touch it
or put it in your mouth.
When people kiss in public
it’s a sign you’re not alone.
Even if you’re not the one
being kissed, there’s something
obviously human about it.
And to be obvious is boring
except for real sentiment
or standing naked
in front of someone.
We’re all either kissing
or pissing on each other.
Everything in between
is too safe to comment on
and not poetry in the least.
Once I was 19
and now I’m 33.
I used to prefer autumn
but spring has made me an adult.
The silence on Charles Street
is charming, even though it’s
nothing like the silence I know,
which can’t be compared to
a street or anything modern
despite this being
a New York poem.
Still, I’m going to try
because what else is there to do
other than work
and down gin and tonics.
There’s a minute
right before the cab
drops me off
when I think—don’t stop,
take me anywhere else.
Just keep driving!
I have it all wrong.

I have it all wrong
but I’m somehow alive.
Some things never change
and why would you want them to.
Like Katz’s deli,
where I still haven’t eaten
but take comfort
in knowing it’s there.
Or the Flatiron building
where I’ve been once or twice,
and where my friend
Dorothea and I took photos
in an elevator and talked about
why it’s important
to keep going no matter what.
Poets are doing this constantly
and it’s one way of showing people
possibility is real and invented.
It has to come from the self!
It doesn’t just show up one day.
You have to leave your house
to make eyes with someone
over a kale salad. Sometimes
you have to dye your hair blond
to remember you’re truly a brunette.
Whenever I see people
crying on First Avenue
I think of the times
I’ve cried on First Avenue—
which is, by all standards,
a great avenue to cry on.
Like Janis Joplin’s
“Get It While You Can”
is a great song and one
that’s extended my life
on many occasions.
Not scientifically
but undeniably spiritually.
And stay with me now
as this is the part of the poem
where I’m trying to tell you
life is better than death
and more ridiculous too.
This is hard to know
given the day or the season,
but I have to trust myself
since I’m likely
the most neurotic poet
in the room, and maybe someone
you’ll know in another life
when we come back as dogs.
The thing is, the world
will continue without us
just as this poem will continue
even if there’s no one
to read what it says.
Please keep reading.
I care so much that you do.
I want to be in rooms
and cabs together,
listening to everything
that’s ever happened to us
until some point in the story
when all the details
are out of the way
and there’s nothing left to say
except the simplest things.
I don’t know what they are
but on Bleecker Street
at half past noon on a Wednesday
two boys are pointing
at a billboard
or studying the sky.
Whatever they’re thinking of,
it’s not about the end of the world.
One of them is wearing
an orange hat and the other
has a button on his backpack
that says “M E O W.”
Exactly! Only yesterday
I spoke to everyone like a cat.
Which is to say, I was mysterious
and pleasing to myself.
I stopped confusing
my body for a weapon
but my body has never
impressed me.
I’m Slavic, after all.
I don’t believe in
self-love, which is
a kind of American sadness
that often feels
desperate and dull.
It’s powerful to feel
you can change
even small things,
even things that don’t
seem to matter at all.
Like the arch of your eyebrows
or the color of your lips
(both of which,
now that I think of it,
are very important and real).
Like being at a party
and for less than a second
feeling like someone entirely new.
I have never wanted to be myself.
What a ludicrous obligation!
Having a fantasy
is the least sad thing there is
and the only thing
that gets me out of bed.
Which makes me think
I should sit down
and write a list
of my fantasies
or at least the things
I love about the world.
Maybe the list will be so long
I’ll call it “Love”
and turn it into a book,
allowing me to feel
justified in not taking more cabs
as a way to finish this poem.
In any case, whenever
I’m in California
I want to be in New York.
And whenever
I’m in New York
I’d rather be in London
because the rain is like light there,
it has this way of calming me down.
It’s 9:14 pm
and the cab I’m in now
is on West 8th Street
almost at the Marlton Hotel
where I’m going on a date.
I have no choice but to follow
my idea of romance,
which as it turns out
means checking my hair
on my phone, like a mirror,
and after too many drinks
telling a man that my favorite word
is bijou—French for jewel.
Haven’t I suffered enough
terrible dates! Couldn’t this
be the one that changes
my life and comes with
a house in the Hamptons.
I can never fall asleep
with a stranger in bed
unless it’s their own bed
and feels like the aisle seat
on a flight to Europe.
Which is to say—
there’s an escape!
Or at least a way
to attend to your needs.
There’s a freedom in hotel bars
when telling the bartender a secret
or switching up your drink
can remind you life isn’t over.
That maybe it’s just stalled for a while.
Usually my drink is champagne
or prosecco. Red wine
with my friend Will,
Diet Coke with Melissa,
and anything anywhere
with my longest friend
Rachel, who everyone knows
wears all black. Marya
does this lovely thing
where she asks for a glass of seltzer
and pours half of it in her rosé.
I really think she’s invented
something necessary,
she’s a Pisces after all.
And Deborah is classic.
I find her commitment
to cocktails an admirable choice.
I can never remember
which one exactly
because I’m always looking
at her hair, which has never
looked bad in the ten years
I’ve known her, and that’s glamour.
If I had to define glamour
that’s what I’d say it is.
Now there’s no smooth way
to make this transition
but I’m in another cab again,
weeks later, trying to remember
who that guy from the date even was,
or why I said I’d text but never did,
as it usually happens with me.
I’m very close to taking out a loan
because of these cab rides.
If any patrons or arts organizations
are reading this, feel free
to send me a check or give me a call.
My number is 248 760 3425.
I think one thing
people misunderstand about me
is how ironic I am
in almost every aspect of life.
I can barely put on pants
to smoke a cigarette
but I’m absolutely dedicated
to writing a good sentence.
I wonder what my mother is doing
at exactly this moment.
I wonder if the L train
has ever taken anyone
where they needed to go.
When I was younger
all I wanted was to be taken seriously.
A serious poet! Why not.
Now I realize being taken seriously
is as arbitrary as how long you live.
I would gladly trade wisdom for youth.
Or beauty. Or the way I stood
in the corner at parties,
always complaining how boring
they were, how we should have gone
somewhere else or maybe
shouldn’t have gone out at all.
Please go to parties, everyone.
Even if it’s just to see
people you dread
drinking very warm beer.
Sometimes there’s justice
in the world! And sometimes
you end up being
that dreadful person
drinking warm beer
and hating yourself.
I can’t believe my fare is
already 17 dollars.
We’re stuck in traffic
on 28th and 2nd
and I’m going to be late
but making it across town
with feeling, no less!
My driver just told me
he’s Russian and I said
“oh great, I’m Bulgarian,
where in Russia exactly?”
He found this absurd
because he laughed
and said “Moscow,”
and now he’s asking me
when it was that I came to America
and I’m telling him
in this roundabout way
how I was six and how
it was very hard on my parents
because we were poor
and I was the only one
who spoke English.
But I’ll leave that
for later. Or never.
I’ll leave you with a few
thoughts on the imagination
because the imagination
is a wild thought
and more honest
than biography.
What’s happened to us
is unimportant.
Terrible things
happen to people
all the time.
It’s about the day
and more than the day.
It’s everything between me
and my cab driver from Moscow,
getting me to my meeting
without a hint of panic or luck.
“How long have you
lived here,” I ask
and he says thirty years
which is crazy to me.
“Only twelve,” I tell him.
But I actually love this so much
because for a second I’m young
in this cab, or at least
someone younger.
There’s a loud bang
on Madison and I remember
that tomorrow’s my birthday.
Oh god. Once again.
November 30, 1984.
It’s been a while
and it’s been a lot.
It’s been romantic
but I definitely want more.
I have no plans
yet can easily make them.
There’s rarely enough money
but surely it’s possible
to walk down the street
and have coffee alone.
I put in my headphones
and listen to Nico’s
“These Days”
before my meeting.
It’s such a good song,
I can’t believe that it’s real.
So good in fact,
that for however long
I forget about everything.
New York is New York.
My life is decidedly mine.
Then I start worrying I haven’t
worn enough sunscreen
and will someday die of
cancer. I start worrying
I won’t die of cancer
but be forgotten and old.
I’m so dramatic.
I’m not even a poet.
I’m really an actor.
And almost at 34 now,
yes, I do think
I look great for my age.
I ate an egg and an orange
for breakfast. My beard
is quite long and still
very well groomed.
It’s incredible really,
even to me, who rarely
feels accomplished
or takes compliments,
that anyone can make it this far.


“Poem Written in a Cab” by Alex Dimitrov. © 2021 Alex Dimitrov. From Love and Other Poems, published by Copper Canyon Press in February 2021. Reprinted with permission of the author.