Wednesday, January 20, 2010

My city

After some time on Long Island and in Mexico, I'm back in NYC, and tomorrow's the first day of my class for the new semester, a graduate seminar on Whitman, Dickinson and their twentieth century heirs. Because my books are scattered in three different places, I went to work at Poets House yesterday, using their superb library to find the right range of poems for my syllabus. The first photo was taken yesterday morning, looking out from Battery Park, just outside of Poets House, out toward Liberty and what Hart Crane called "the chained bay waters." The second one is from early this evening, the moon over 7th Avenue, the sky a perfect, glowing winter blue. That jiggly white apparition is the moon.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Tangled lines of lost possessions

The cab driver at JFK told me he knew just where I was going, in order to catch my bus out to the South Fork, and so I sat back -- weary from the day-long journey from the Yucatan to Queens -- and watched the expressway lights, and called Paul and talked on the phone a while, and so didn't notice till the driver made a u-turn, then tentatively eyed some dark-looking intersections, that he didn't know where we were. I had to fire up my computer and look up the directions, and by the time we arrived the fare was about a third higher than in should have been, and my bus was already idling at the stop, with clouds of frozen exhaust billowing up from the tailpipe. So I hurried to charge the fare, pack away the laptop, get my bags together -- the two masks I bought in Merida, packed in the special Anne Waldman/Kiki Smith tote bag Anne gave me, where were they? I got it all together, raced to the bus, only to discover it wasn't my bus after all. And there I was in the aching cold, right next to the galactic rush of the L.I.E., and I realized that inside the departing cab was my hat. My favorite winter hat, with two layers of knit wool, and ear flaps -- decorated with blue pigeons! -- that folded down perfectly over my ears. Gone.

Thus the hat becomes indelible, at least for a while, as it moves to the front of the line in the great chain of my lost hats. I imagine this line snaking behind me, moving as I do, curving off toward the horizon: Kangol caps, baseball caps, watch caps, longshoremen's caps, stocking hats... I begin to imagine this line intersecting with lines of my other lost things. The longest must be the line of pens, a half century's worth of writing implements. Shorter lines of jackets, shirts, shoes. An enormous line of single socks, how is it possible?

Then it's easy to imagine my trails of lost things intersecting with the trails of others. I move inside the lobby of the Fresh Meadows Cinema to warm up (at least some)before my bus comes; it's packed with people lining up to see Avatar. They're all trailing cordons of things they couldn't manage to hold onto, shorter lines for the children, longer and more elaborate ones for the adults holding their hands. The room's so thick with tangled lines it's a wonder anyone can find their way to the ticket counter, where the seven PM show in 3D is already sold out.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Poets awakened by wild festivity...

I write from The Italian Coffee Company, on Calle 62 in Merida, in the Yucatan. This place, which is smack in the centro historico, has the best coffee I've found here so far. The centro seems to be thronged with people all the time -- some of them tourists, but the majority are local, at least just now when this part of town's all athrum with doings for Three Kings Day. Last night I was just falling asleep when a very grave male chorus began in the street outside my room, their volume swelling. I'm used to lots of street music outside, but this was something else, as if the Stalingrad men's choir had come marching down Calle 60 outside my hotel. Then there was a huge explosion, as if some part of the hotel had just blown up, the walls and rafters literally ringing. Through the high bathroom window, I could see a streak of gold in the sky, over the Plaza Central. By the time I threw some clothes on and got out onto the terrace, Anne Waldman was already there in her glamorous black bathrobe, and Tim Siebles came stumbling out, and the three of us watched the sky light up over the square, to the wild roars of applause greeting the Feast of the Epiphany. Thousands of grackles were winging their way out of there, in shock over the explosions -- so the birds were streaking east and the fireworks flying up and the wind blowing big billows of smoke after the birds.

Friday, January 1, 2010

In memory of Rachel Wetzsteon

From the Times obituary:

Ms. Wetzsteon’s work was often rooted in her Morningside Heights neighborhood. In the title poem of “Sakura Park,” here in its entirety, she wrote of the small park near Riverside Church, known for its cherry trees:

The park admits the wind,
the petals lift and scatter
like versions of myself I was on the verge
of becoming; and ten years on
and ten blocks down I still can’t tell
whether this dispersal resembles
a fist unclenching or waving goodbye.
But the petals scatter faster,
seeking the rose, the cigarette vendor,
and at least I’ve got by pumping heart
some rules of conduct: refuse to choose
between turning pages and turning heads
though the stubborn dine alone. Get over
“getting over”: dark clouds don’t fade
but drift with ever deeper colors.
Give up on rooted happiness
(the stolid trees on fire!) and sweet reprieve
(a poor park but my own) will follow.
There is still a chance the empty gazebo
will draw crowds from the greater world.
And meanwhile, meanwhile’s far from nothing:
the humming moment, the rustle of cherry trees.