Kaoru Muramatsu Sees an Exploding Rose in Spanish Harlem

Richard Oyama


For Patricia Spears Jones


The glass blew out like an a-bomb. I

owned 1644 Park where Absolute Piano was.

Next door was our tuner, our mover, our finishers.

One of my workers was saved by the plague of debris

under the broken pianos. My parents sold Hondas

in Japan but I came to study art in Manhattan. I met

Carl. The building was part of the settlement.

East Harlem was so different. It was like the UN—

Venezuelan, Greek, Russian. Next door was

the Spanish Christian Church that used

to be Puerto Rican, now it’s Mexican.

Apartments were 1/2BR railroad flats.

The Metro-North shook windows at night.

The neighborhood was terrible for years, then

housing complexes sprung up like burdock root.

Nearby was Hot Bread Kitchen. I bought

a Bialy al Barrio for lunch. After Sunday

service the church threw a potluck. We

tramped down to the basement. There was a folding table

with a floral-patterned oilcloth and plates

of pollo asado, yellow rice, refried beans, glass jugs of

horchata and tamarindo. Someone brought a tres leches cake.

It was dolorous as bells. They were blood I had

never met. Everybody called me

señora, mamí. Upper rooms were saved

for congregants and the poor. They say

the cast-iron pipes were 100 years old. It may’ve

been a lid of frost that trapped and moved the gas

sideways. Even a spark could blow. The first tenement

folded like an accordion, the second a row of dominoes.

There’s a big sinkhole like a black lake.

Our organ struck grace notes behind the choir. Now

the street’s an assemblage of warped steel, wood, brick

by Rauschenberg. Rosaura was a line cook at Triomphe

in the Iroquois Hotel, Griselda a security clerk.

Rosaura’s mother was born in Puebla. In August I

ought to dance their spirits by the river at Obon, neh

and plant marigolds in the rubble in October. This

was the same time the transponder on Flight 370

stopped 40 minutes over the Indian Ocean.