Tag Archives: New York City

Three Small Stones

Waves come running
some small, some large.
They’re inconsistent
as sample dirges from a master
sound to native ears.
The waves crash orange
along the shore of the East River.
Harold, Robert and Cassandra
play cards, chain smoke
up on the roof.
Good getting done in the old shoes.
Cassandra says it gets hotter at night.
Harold thinks of the clouds
that have hovered over the city for weeks,
lingering, nascent
a promise made that went forgotten.
Pears fall clumsy from a tree
that grew through the neighbors building.
Robert clambers on top of a tall chimney
and squats, though there’s a chair,
and he notes
that the waves are growing.

Empty amethyst of our lives
protecting us from the loose juice.
Dawn bought Oz tango lessons for Christmas
and they stayed dry and warm in the drawer.
Infinite loops leading to infinite failures.
Diagrams drawn on the back of a lager label,
one Cassandra had torn off the bottle,
detailing how a young woman can own a young man
using three sentences.
When Harold got out of the Air Force
he used his GI footing to get his masters in poetry.
He found himself using clamps to crack nuts,
more interested in drawing portraits
of a falling sky,
or looking at old photographs of strangers
than listening to an older woman
discuss the form of things
and how to count.
He received letters from Daniel,
and he wondered how Daniel got his address in Eugene,
but he didn’t wonder after he read the letters.
Some people have a way of knowing.
Here in the cold space
are Warm whispers
beside a daughter of America’s shoulder
with crossword puzzles
and bright skin
all known from a borrowed tune
listed in a podunk almanac
from the back of her hatchback
notes on being a loose-lipped survivor
sleeping in moss and mist.
Here are notes how it feels
to not fit into a suit,
or tell a tailor that you just don’t know.
Pull up your pants,
roll up your sleeves,
when there is no breeze
no jacket is really warm or cold
just an addition to a neutral feeling.
So, Harold read Camus, Dante and Milton.
He drew partial extracts from a nearby sunset,
noted the color and shape of things he could see
handed Robert a pair of 8’s on the fold out table,
stamping out a butt,
and smoke bloomed around Robert’s thick forearm
like traces through their mutual ghost.
Robert felt like the mascot
of a forgotten, trampled city.
He said this in a letter to Daniel,
which Daniel unfolded and read in his garden,
watching the Macon azaleas breathe,
a blue-breasted Kingfisher in a branch.
Daniel daydreamed of the King of America.
He hoped he had a warm place,
maybe a jacket or two,
maybe pancakes and marmalade.
Something’s we are better off not knowing.

Harold daydreamed of an empty America.
One with lilac fields and candycane branches
bricks swathed in petals
walking through a slanted desert
he imagined the peace
of the inviting quiet of a prairie.
Horses and foxes
Elephants and wolves
warm moons on envelope dreams
riding handbuilt bicycles with Daniel,
meeting in strange places,
living squadrons among caverns and stolls.
The rain a gleaned mightless drip.
Harold knows he can slow down without this,
that he honestly needs to,
too much gets lost in the noise,
and you forget what you were trying to do
so he wants trees and cliffside’s
and the voices of children
near that same ocean shore
with Lloyd
throwing a tennis ball again,
skidding gentle and rapturous
like a smooth stone on water
these splashed notes
set to a harmony
with the emotions water wrung
a heavy sweater dripping out on the clothesline.
Once the clouds dissipate,
the cloth and the shroud will shrink
the way America will.
The waves pulling back
the valves closing
the shutters and the dust swift
among the footprints
and the song of overactive eyelids.
Harold and Robert sat on rocks in Central Park.
Thinking and talking about the way things were not,
what change and growth did not bring,
no settled peace or contentment,
just another title and job.
Ten feet away a photograph was taken
of a couple standing beside a still lake.
Robert couldn’t think of the last time he was photographed.
Robert wrenched change from his key pocket
and threw three smooth small coins
against the still water.
And then huffed breath coughing phlegm and old smoke
dancing in the quiet stream,
he hacked at his lungs until it sprouted
three thousand miles away
at the railroad overpass,
where his muddy boots and her bra lay underneath,
he heard two lovers laughter.
He did not hear his voice.
Robert stayed quiet
the way survivors do
when they think about what was lost.

These two marble sons of America
making sacrifices and tolling sweat
riding trains and paying bills
drumming through duty
waiting for dignity to arrive,
losing themselves in cards and bourbon,
syntax slippers on a gallows deck
They yawn and they don’t sleep.
Cassandra draws their portraits,
without looking at the paper,
it comes out looking like cartoon captains
born on a cereal box.
And after looking at that,
and feeling a bullish knot in his stomach
Harold drunkenly climbs into his room
and removes Daniel’s letter from a box.
And Harold reads a section aloud
because he thought that it was needed

“Harold, you slow dulcimer,
pick up your borrowed name
and cold shoulders,
say what you are,
shake the drowsy feeling from your hearts,
the cold lovers of yesterday cannot hurt you.
Slack your pace, hear your rhythm,
be one with your spirit,
not your mind.
The beautiful blonde at this cafe you are looking at
will not complete your life,
though you will probably complete hers.
Why do you work so hard for someone else?
Why do you wait for them to raise their standards?
Why do you invite this pain?
Why do you strive for completion?
Why do you try to finish your life,
round it off,
before it even started?
How can you be so sure?
Harold,
get away from what you have known.
Stop loving others
and love the world first.
Do not ask yourself
if the intimacy they have shared,
that America has shared with you,
is the same intimacy,
they get from a cold cauldron on an empty night.
Follow and ask the pollute stars
for your name in a constellation.
Skip rocks as a heartbeat moves
across migrant shores,
the lapsed batty heart of America
is not lost to you,
bend your eyebrows through a thicket
tuck your good lover into a warm bed,
kiss their forehead,
carve your false thoughts into a cliffside
to announce and forget them,
get out of Eugene,
go anywhere,
stop tugging around these bricks by your ankles,
you are only strong right now,
because you are young,
and your momentum
and heavy shoulders will not keep you young.
Hold your doubt’s in a vial against the desert sun
so it will crack like it was meant to.
The waters in the center of the Pacific ocean
are brackish poison.
But we live against the shore.
With the near-silent echoes
of each others bodies.
There is nothing more than this.
There’s a balance beyond yourself to master,
after you master the balance of yourself.
Remember when Laura told you nobody cares about your feelings?
And we talked
and I told you to announce it to the soil
either as a truth or a lie,
and to keep it that way?
I gave you the seeds
to plant in my garden.
I watched your earnest loving heart,
working in the name of America
dig a flower bed with your bare hands
and kiss the back of your hand
and smooth the soil over.
Harold,
those flowers grow.”

New York City Novels

I hate stories set in New York City. They are always about orphans caught up in something outside their normal bounds – racketeering, art, politics – some unseemly underbelly that reveals the garish and ugly roots of humanity and society – the unpromising face or series of gears that keeps the mechanical world alive, but draws at the spiritual center for energy. These stories are an escape. And escape requires conditions of loneliness, of defeat, of dissatisfaction, elements of despair.

These stories: they are not about any world I see and know. Any world you see and care about – otherwise you, the you-you, you would be not be reading this. It’d be boring, stulting, dead. You live in Manhattan after all. The center of the world. Who gives a fuck about regular people?

Why can’t anyone be direct and convincing about their life without an angle of artifice, a dollar dangling in front, another pretense or a complication? Everything now is a reference, an illusion, a lonely work towered upon other lonely works done by lonely people. Most of these writers seem to be loneliness within loneliness, trapped in some insufferable maze. The world has enough metaphors. The world is plenty confused without any more cringing equivocations or reached symbols. The world has enough clutter.

So don’t tell me another a story about New York City. Don’t give me another novel about a kid growing up rough in the city, how New Yorkers only care to know about New York City – don’t give me that story because I won’t take it with me. Don’t give me another weak metaphor for NYC as a father, or a brother, or the gridded connectivity of our lives in the invisible connections just past our reach, don’t tell me that the power and the money hide away the mysteries of the world, don’t suggest the subway can be the arteries of our blood, don’t take the shit that the changing, breathing tide, the city its epicenter, is a life-giving force. Don’t tell me the city is a metaphor for everything we can or won’t be.

Because it’s bullshit. All of it. Every word is a deceit, a gimmick for a dollar. Every metaphor is a drawn-out lie by someone who doesn’t know how to be direct, how barely knows who they are as a person. And though I have never been to New York City, it seems like an apt enough description of everyone there to sate whatever lingering curiosities exist.

So don’t give me anymore stories about New York City. Because nobody outside of it really gives a shit.

 

Chapter Nine

I’m skittish when I pull of the bridge, my feet are sore, and I’ve been driving too long. At first I am dazed, the city is so much bigger than I remember. I swing onto 9th from the Lincoln Tunnel and find my place between these high rises. I am surrounded by glass towers adorned with vast windows that capture my reflection, and I watch the car as it moves noiselessly with the grain of the stream.

I hear signs of life waiting at a red light. There is a car that announces its presence with a stern and headed horn. I watch the soft arrival of a leaf on the pavement, and smile as it scratches the concrete. I hear the jostling of keys as they are fiddled with, desperate yanks, trying to pry them from the depths of a rigid pocket.

Today, the sun is hiding behind a front of gray, and things are cool for once, naked skin doesn’t sting against the surface. I look at the sidewalk, it is stained with gum, cigarette butts, and unidentifiable mixtures of bodily fluids as well as countless other junk that you wouldn’t think is good enough to toss in the garbage bins.Like empty cups and containers from McDonald’s. Shards of glass laying patiently on the ground. Broken cardboard boxes and crumpled newspapers from weeks ago moving like bales of dust. There are people squatting with these things. Gaunt, they rest against the buildings, heads hanging towards the ground, rhythmic, with drooping eyes, low, listless and vacant, nearly scraping the ground,  caught in a trance. The merchants take to the sidewalk hocking jewelry and bootlegs for half the price and a third of the quality. And the pigeons perch triumphant on power lines only to jump to the occasional branch, to observe all that there is, and all there ever will be. There is a reason they shit on us.

I close my eyes and I hear car doors slam shut, hear the hiss of steam emanating from under the streets, hear the ceaseless pounding of a jackhammer and hear the faint far reaching whacks of nails against hammers. A young man hollers the score of the Yankees game with a grin to a crowd of people descending into the depths of the subway station. There is the sound of young school girls still giggling and whispering with innocence, still nervous about even saying a boys name out loud and silently unsure about the future and their place it, yet to be assuaged by the unavoidable way of things. A draft finds its way through my windows, and I can smell where things are heading. And though my errands in Manhattan have been delayed at this unfortunate but necessary bit of traffic, life is abundant and blooming before my ears in the form of footsteps, muffled coughs and children’s voices disguised as a monotonous routine.

The car behind me honks, I flash open my eyes to a green light staring back at me. I press my heavy foot into the pedal, and all these things drift aimlessly into the past, like some wanton bird flying in the wrong direction for the very last time. Yet the city and the streets and the people and the buildings and the corners and the sidewalks and the windows and the parked cars and the trash and even those leaves blowing listlessly from the trees somehow blur and condense into this specter that roams through the alleys, the stairwells, the attics and the stoops; relentlessly evolving, it will never splinter or wane into a calculable history that would be as vulnerable as it is still. 

Every road is dotted in half with intermittent lines, rested upon square shoulders always headed strictly towards an end. I am on one of them.