East River, After a Long Absence

A drunk vet—1st Marine Regiment,

Persian Gulf—homeless by the smell,

Has shuffled up to me. He says his dad died

Killing gooks, so he went over to kill

Sand rats. We stuff pork balls in their

Mouths. Keeps them outta heaven.


East River is metallic this morning,

The breeze makes meshes on its skin.

The early ferry is making its way across

And a speedboat rips the river a new spine.

I watch his face—and mine—get blown 

To pieces in the churn and froth.

I was here once, half of me


Leaning out over the guard rail. I knew (or 

Hoped, or feared) I could simply tip into 

That silver, roiling body and be freed

Of all struggle, with only a few seconds

Of regret. Yo, you want proof? Look,


I’m still carrying shrapnel. He rolls up

His pant leg and shows me his dark scar.

He asks for cash. I hand him a pair of tens.

He digs into his shabby jacket, pulls out

A pack of smokes and shakes out two.


We lean on the rail and smoke. A flock

Of squawking schoolboys flies off the ferry.

The M14 arrives with a groan

And jackhammers start pounding the street.

I watch a cormorant stab the river’s belly

For a fish. My friend has forgotten me.

His eyes are shut tight, he mumbles

To someone only he can see. 


I think back to a short-sleeved shirt

I once saw floating here, how the river

Handled it with such care, turning it 

Over and inside out, endlessly washing

The checkered cloth with its grey hands.


Prabu Vasan

Prabu Vasan lives in New York State’s Hudson Valley. He is a clinical social worker, most recently working in the area of suicide prevention. His work has been published in 6x6, Tarpaulin Sky, Tricycle, and the anthology, I Go to the Ruined Place: Contemporary Poems in Defense of Global Human Rights. He is working on a first collection of poems titled, To Find One Another.

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