Covers

DT6491.jpg

I was on the bus, a man had gotten on, he had a thick accent and asked if anyone had change for $2.  No one answered.  He went with us a stop.  The bus driver asked him again.  He asked again.  I didn’t even look.  I didn’t want to help him.  I didn’t want to help anyone.  I wanted to go to work, and go home, and watch TV, and go to sleep.

No one gave him $2 worth of change.  An assertive woman in the back said, “Who is she talking to?”  Meaning the bus driver, who is the bus driver asking for fare.  “Get off the bus!” she said.  “I gotta go!”

Finally he got off the bus.  It was impossible to say if he really didn’t have change, or he had forgotten to get change, his affect was flat.

“You weren’t kidding around,” someone told the assertive lady.

I got the date of my move wrong.  I was sitting working with a student on a paper when I realized this.  I told him I had to go to the bathroom, walked upstairs, and called my sister so she could calm me down.

I woke up the next morning and carried boxes of books down three flights of stairs.

This morning I woke up with sore calves.  Not as bad as when I moved out of a fourth-floor apartment into a second-floor one (that day I could hardly walk), but sore.

The snow I had ordered, the last snow in New York City, arrived prettily, lacy, light, slowly.

I lay in my bed and could not avoid noticing that the walls were too bare, that there is a gap like from a pulled tooth, the gap where my great-grandmother’s dresser was.  My dresser since I was seven years old.  And the lamp that was in my room when I was an infant.  They’re all in my dad’s van, which has gone across New Jersey, Pennsylvania, is now in Ohio.

My dad, my stepmom, and I ate at my cafe, looked at Alexander Hamilton’s grave, and saw a display of quilts made by military tailors, out of military uniform fabrics.  The guard at that museum said, “What are you resisting?”

“Oh, Trump, of course,” I said, and he fist-bumped me.

I said goodbye to my dad and stepmom and the vanfull of my possessions, and went directly up to my bed and cried and cried and cried.

Moving requires a lot of crying.  And I’m not even a crier, I’m not even that good at it.

My roommate knocked and hugged me while I cried some more.

And in the morning, the snow I had ordered, as from a  catalog, a thing that used to exist as something we children looked at, and could never order from, but cut pictures out of, and desired things we would never get, like American Girl dolls, and things we would get, like clothes from Sears.

The snow delivered.  But why, where had it come from how was it December, how was it my last week in New York, how was it Christmastime, after all those times I stomped home certain no one cared for me at all, ready to buy a ticket back home and show everyone that I had given up.  Look!  I gave up!

The tickets were always expensive.  I always found a reason to stay, even if it was just that I was too tired to take action.  Even if it was only that I wouldn’t leave my great-grandmother’s dresser.

It snowed and it covered everything, my grief at leaving, my latest attempt to die to one life and move into another, my beautiful times with strangers and people who were immediately friends, and people who were slowly friends, and people who betrayed me, and people who had visited me in New York, giving me a concentrated, adventure kind of friendship that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.  It snowed on Battery Park, where I went to art events and protests, on Liberty Island, where I took many visitors, on Melville’s streets, downtown, it snowed on the top of the Empire State Building, where my cousin and I had looked over the grid.  It snowed on Crown Heights, the part around the Nostrand 3 stop, and I remember going to that stop the first time and thinking, “This is my stop.  I have a stop in New York City.”

Image: “Street Story Quilt,” Faith Ringgold, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Advertisements

Return

images.jpeg

She cries grey,

like the wash from the ink brush when

there is only an eyedrop of ink,

there isn’t black.

She calls catastrophe:

it appears, above.

There was no octopus, no graphite, no soot,

nothing could be written,

pages were washes,

scribbles carved flirty moons and moonslices.

 

She wakes,

she engages friends,

with her concern.

They walk and walk.

 

I was hands less.

I was less open-eyed,

my breasts not bound

There were things I dismissed

including rust

I knew what I liked.

 

They found the man to be be angry, and, worse, absent.

 

A humbug, though, offered what he had to

travelers from the desert.

Even a humbug in a white-gleam

city where everyone

wears tinted lenses,

where there is no such thing as clear.

He has a way up,

a way out,

to Omaha, back

to Omaha,

where my grandparents

and my great-grandparents

were buried in their good clothes.

The humbug said,

“Let’s go.”

I, on Friday nights, dreaded equally

the empty apartment

the friendless bar.

“Let’s go!” said the humbug, who also believed we would never know or need magic again, as he was not magic.

The wizard left alone.

for Omaha,

where my grandparents

and my great-grandparents

are buried in their good clothes.

My great-grandmother Mabel,

who fed me knox blocks and

studied Latin and Greek,

My great-grandfather, who dressed the dead,

My grandmother, buried with her withered mind and worn heart.

My grandfather, whose heart exploded and silenced his squeaky chuckle.

My great-grandmother who stitched.

My great-grandfather who made bathtub gin.

I will not return to Omaha.

I have the shoes.

And I will leave in a click

of a glint and

with color in my eyes.

 

Hair Peace

The weather has turned the city from welcoming to alien, the wind suddenly blew so cold, I set blankets against my windows and the north-facing wall.  I spend Friday and Saturday fielding calls about the hows and whens of my move.

A radiator in the apartment busted a gasket (I think literally?) and clouds of steam stream out, crack the paint into streaks in the hallway as it evaporates.  When I get home, the super is tinkering with the radiator, and later I hear him clattering in the bathroom, probably cleaning up.

New York changes you, a friend said.  I was like, no, nothing changes me, I am a force unto myself.

Thursday night I went into Manhattan to meet a friend, and it was one of those perfect into Manhattan times, that I was so psyched to be there, to get off the subway and walk in the orchestra of the people, wander, see the lights, eat a sandwich, chat.  Energy, energy, energy.

I have a hard time remembering: I came to New York City someone who had never lived with anyone she wasn’t related to, or sleeping with.  Someone who had lived her entire adult life in the city where she was raised.  Someone who had had exactly two jobs in her twelve-year career.  Someone who had a wee anxiety disorder, and took about a year to open up and feel comfortable with people.

I had to speed shit up, here.  I just had to: eight different roommates, three jobs, in four years.

I don’t find this a particularly speed-obsessed place.  Things here actually happen slower.  Bureaucracy is glacial.  You spend half your day waiting for the train, or waiting or the train to get there.  People sit in traffic.  Wait in laundromats.

I had to open up to people here, though, as much as my tense little self could.

Results were mixed.

I am about to get up and get going on a Saturday, I hear the cat peeing on the floor.  I told her I was going to beat the shit out of her, which she knows is not true.

My city.

A friend I love, loved, our relationship was long, weird, loving, generous, or was it?  There were things about me that I thought only he understood.  We were drinking buddies, and other things, I don’t know what we were.  He disappeared, and he won’t even know that I have left New York.  He disappeared completely.

“If you move to New York,” I told him many years ago, “I’ll see you all the time.”  I did.  “If you move to LA, I’ll never see you again.”

I finally got myself dressed and out of the apartment.  Neighbors were hanging out under the scaffolding next door.  “How are you?” one said.  “How’s your mother?”

“She’s fine, thank you for asking,” I said.  I hate when people say, “Thanks for asking,” like, I’m honored you consider me worthy of the most casual conversation, but this guy met my mom once a million years ago, so it was actually nice for him to ask.

“And hey, watch your step, there!” another neighbor said.

Dog shit.  “Oh, I see, you guys are all out here protecting the community, huh?  Public service?”

They liked this, they all laughed and laughed as I walked away.  Standing around, smoking or drinking a beer on the sidewalk when it’s forty degrees, autumn weak sun, leaning on the railing of the scaffolding.

—–

Goodbye Louis CK as a good guy, a feminist.  I’ve watched “Louie,” and “Baskets,” repeatedly, and I still don’t quite “get” them, in the best way.  I just feel “yes” about them.  “Better Things” is also quite “yes.”

I always had a fondness for Kevin Spacey keeping his sexuality private.  “American Beauty” remains a favorite movie of mine.

I started thinking of Out of Africa when I thought about leaving New York.  I am broke, like Dinesen was, and I did have a short time here, relatively speaking.  I do not have syphilis, though, and I’ll be back, of course, I’m not leaving the way she left.

Also, obviously, I’m a well-meaning white person who is sometimes insufferable but not, you know, all the time.

The way people used to leave places.  The way my great-grandfather left Poland.  Goodbye forever, and by forever, he meant forever.

People had more practice for death, in the past.  I don’t know if this was good or bad.

But anyway I love New York like that, like it makes me who I am, the idea of it.  Its mere existence is a comfort.

I stumbled into watching a bit of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s bed-in, or peace-in,  whatever.  I love how Yoko gets to talk.  One of the reporters insists he was talking to John, but John ignores this.  John treats her like she’s also an artist and a person.  Of course he was a real piece of work, too.  And she loved him.

I liked watching them make their posters with markers and put on their jammies and be like, Our biggest problem is war!  I was like, shit, if only our biggest problem was a war in southeast Asia killing millions of innocent people.

Wait, okay, that was a pretty bad problem.

And I thought, it’s so easy to focus on what you’re against instead of what you’re for.  For decency, for freedom to make mistakes, for truly restorative justice, for nurturing, for mistakes, for jammies, for vegetables, for pie, for letting “Parks and Rec” play a million episodes in a row, in the background, if that’s what makes you feel safe.  It’s fine.  For feeling safe because people can be good.  Hair peace; bed peace.

Alarms

DP318689

 

The smoke alarms were going off.  This told me the super had installed them properly, which was a surprise.  Two of them were going off, one beeping, and one was saying, “Fire…. Fire…. Fire….”

I didn’t want to get up, and I thought, someone was cooking, and they’ll handle it.

A crazy man drove his car into a crowd this week, and the press reported, “Terrorist Attack.”  Some news hits you so hard, and some news just bounces right off me, like that bit.  I was just like, I am moving, my whole life is falling down around me, I can’t compute other threats.

When I went to my meditation group, though, one of the women who was there lived right at the scene of the crime.  She looked out her windows and saw it.

“I couldn’t leave the apartment,” she said.  “We were on lockdown.”  We listened to her story.

Another woman was in Puerto Rico during the hurricane.  She showed us pictures from her balcony, before and after: green Eden and winter sketch.

My roommate opened my door and said, “Do you know which apartment the super lives in?”  I didn’t.

But I put my glasses on, texted the super.  I got up, and saw the whole hallway was full of smoke.

Except it wasn’t.  It was steam.

Last night I went from work to the psychiatrist, for my last prescriptions of my (current) New York life.  My psychiatrist lives and works on Central Park West, and feeling like a real New Yorker, up there in her office, is not worth having panic attacks, but is cool.

I got on the wrong train, noticing only when I saw daylight above my Candy Crush hypnosis, we were on our way to Brooklyn and MY DOCTOR IS IN MANHATTAN.

I arrived at 5 for my 4:45 appointment, feeling like I didn’t need my medication, but WHAT IF I DID?

There was another woman in the waiting room.  Ah.  It’s all good.

When you see another person at the office of a mental health professional, it feels like you are in some sort of conspiracy.  No one ever says, “What are you in for?”  But everyone’s wondering how crazy the others are.

I petted my doctor’s dog and she wrote my prescriptions and wished me well.

Walking to the subway, I heard a loud boom, like fireworks.

You know how everyone always says, “It sounded like fireworks?”

The New Yorker commitment to acting like it’s all cool is so deep that no one, I mean no one, appeared alarmed.  I was walking down Broadway, the weather was perfect, it was Friday night, and everyone was more concerned with looking like everything was cool than, you know, not dying.

Or perhaps they had all gotten the text alert from the city that some running group had a permit to shoot off fireworks to celebrate the New York marathon.

Why you would shoot off fireworks in Central Park to celebrate being about to run a marathon?  I mean, maybe at the end.

I turned a corner and saw the color, red and white sparkles.  Fireworks.

The whole apartment hallway being a cloud was nice, pore-opening, I love the tropical, humidity.

We hope nothing was ruined by the moisture.

The floors aren’t ours.

Every fall here, the boilers are lit, one day you notice your radiators are on, maybe the skeletal barging around sounds, maybe it’s just warm and you don’t have to turn on the space heater and you’re like, Oh, wait, it’s on.

Image: “Tristan Tzara,” Man Ray, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

If

Merely reading about “If I Loved You,” why it is a powerful song, why it works, made me cry.  Not even hearing it.

I also cried at the Orlando airport, when I realized I should have said goodbye to my family before security, that we were at different terminals and I would not see them again to hug goodbye.  A woman behind me in line said, “Are you okay?”  I mean, who is okay at the airport?  Not even me, and I am self-sedated.  They were telling us we didn’t need to take our shoes off, or take out our liquids, or our laptops, and Jesus, we had all spent the last ten years learning to do those things, it would be faster for them just to let us do it.  Also I was hoping the TSA guy would let me through even though my flight was more than two hours hence and going through security was definitely against the rules.

It’s not a complicated song.  I’ve never even seen “Carousel.”

Tears on my face, wiping my nose. “Just frustrated and tired?” said the woman behind me.

“Yes,” I said, and I tried to not cry so much, and save it for the bathroom, where all respectable WASPs cry.  She had said just the right thing.  I loved what she said.

The TSA guy let me through.  He was more concerned with my identity and less with my timing.

I did a little more crying in the handicapped stall of the bathroom past security.  I heard someone say, “I’m waiting for that one,” which meant my tears were on a time clock with her disabled need to use the toilet, great.  I had three hours til my flight.

I came to New York (secretly, very secretly) to fall in love, marry, and publish a book, and I did neither.  I did fall in lust, and I did sit down at tables with agents wearing a beautiful black dress and a red Japanese print robe.  I looked stunning and if I had met myself, I would have said, “You are about to have a nervous breakdown.”

I also hoped to have magnificent adventures and meet deeply interesting people, and I did both of those things.  A magnificent night in New York, I am sure I have had the most magnificent night possible, and this is so satisfying.

You see I cannot permit myself to mourn, but must LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE, THINK OF ALL THE ADVANTAGES YOU HAVE.

This quite frustrated my therapist.

Last night I watched a documentary about Joan Didion.  I love her sunglasses, cigarettes, and despair.  A collaborator of hers said he loved her books on grief because they were written by, and for, people without faith.  I have a religion, a practice, a tradition, but I don’t have faith.  Other people have faith for me, the church is a home, my friends are safe harbors, and my family is warm pajamas, but I do not have faith.

And thus, “If I Loved You,” if, if, if.

I got home from Orlando and my cat was here, sneezing, yowling at night again.  She’s so old everyone secretly thinks, maybe she will die before she has to move back to Kansas City.  That when I reunite with her, I am a little distant because I don’t want to love her again, because she will die.  Still, all she is doing is sneezing (likely allergies, the vet said), and yowling at nothing in the living room.  I call her name, she returns to my side and is peaceful.

I wanted city-kid teaching to be a sustainable profession, and to prove that it could be, by being clever, and open, and loving, and then I quit.  I don’t know that it is sustainable, a job that one can keep for a lifetime, a career, keep honing and improving, because it is just too difficult to find and keep a spot where one can do it without being abused.

Also I wanted it to be sustainable because that would be more comfortable for me.

I know a lot of teachers, a lot, and I don’t know anyone who made it through a whole career teaching the poorest kids.  I know many people who wanted to.

I am better than all those people, though, and willing to sacrifice.

There was a bit of hubris involved.

Decisions.  Maybe my life would have been quite similar, had I stayed in Kansas City.  That Dorothy business. I do believe in it.  She didn’t choose to go, though, she wished, and she was sent.

If I loved you
Time and again
I would try to say
All I’d want you to know

If I loved you
Words wouldn’t come
In an easy way
Round in circles I’d go

Longing to tell you
But afraid and shy
I’d let my golden chances
Pass me by

Soon you’d leave me
Off you would go
In the mist of day
Never never to know
How I loved you

If I loved you

 

Image: detail (and flipped) from “Progressive proof in pink for ‘Merry-go-round,'” Gabriel Fernandez Ledesma, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Aside: I’m reading The Secret Life of the American Musical by Jack Viertel, and yes, it’s pretty weird I hadn’t already read it.  I bought it in Times Square, from the Strand booth, which is quite special, isn’t it?

Blue

I sat on my bed, cross legged, painting my wings blue.  The wings are already blue, the section lines that make them butterfly wings, like stained glass panels, are black, and they must be black for me to be the Blue Fairy.

The Blue Fairy shows up at Gepetto’s, where he is praying that the puppet he made would be a real boy.

The other good story about things becoming real is the Velveteen Rabbit.

Or maybe all stories are about things becoming real.

I sat in Hayden Planetarium, where I had once attended “Grunge Laser 3-D,” and whispered into my niece’s ear.  She was in my lap, wiggling, becoming bored with an IMAX 3-D show about birds and flight.  “I’m gonna take off my glasses,” she said.

From the moment I found my first niece, and hugged her up in Penn Station, my anxiety was turned way down.

I had a moment at the Natural History Museum, in the basement, when I thought I had lost my medicine, but only that one rough moment, one I was able to breathe through.  Manhattan, a big museum, a basement: all things I love, and also things that sometimes amplify and inspire my panic attacks.

Constant hand-holding, lurching a kid onto my hip (they are all really too heavy to hold now), hugs, and what I realized was a near-constant touching the tops of their heads, combing back their blonde hair with my fingers.  I think it was very, very good for my nerves.  Though none of them are actually biologically related to me, all my nieces are as blonde as I was, not brunette like their mothers.

“Look at those!  That’s amazing!” I whispered.  We saw devil rays leaping out of the water, flying for just a moment, splashing down.  Rays are dear to me.  I only knew them to fly underwater, not out of it.

“I’m scared,” another niece said.  “Don’t drink!  Don’t have more than one drink!”

“It’s okay,” I said.  “I’m a grown-up, and I will be very responsible.”  I was very responsible.

“Sometimes I get very scared and I feel like I am drowning in a huge ocean,” another niece said.

“It’s okay.  I get scared like that, too.”

My back hurts on one side.  I would say it was lifting and carrying heavy kids, but actually it is probably my work bag.  I won’t carry a backpack because they are not elegant.

We rode the subway.  A la Louis CK, I crouched down.  “If you get lost, you stay in the station, and we’ll come back for you, or you get off at the next stop, and we will get you there.  It’s easy to find people you lose on the subway.  The train only goes two ways.”  I pointed.

The Blue Fairy has no back story.  She appears, animates a puppet, gives him a stern moralistic mission: brave, truthful, unselfish.  Then you will become real.

After a variety of adventures, Pinnochio dies trying to save his father’s life.

Blue Fairy returns, and resurrects Pinnochio.  Instead of reviving him, he is resurrected, a real boy, with soft elbows instead of hinged joints, soft hands instead of comical, blocky white gloves, a short, snub nose, and a belly as soft as the whale’s.

Summer Sunset

It was dusk it was too cold to swim.  The Atlantic is always too cold.  I unzipped my dress, pulled it off, made a pile.  The section of the water I chose was between two rock fingers that measure the beach, black rocks with signs that, in the day, you can see say, “Do not climb.”  That section was occupied by one other woman, with long hair, who went far out, and floated back in.  So I felt safe.  I stepped in, my feet, ankles, calves, adjusted from wading, but then the waves came to take more, they push, as I step out, and flinch, and flinch.  The water is dark, diluted ink.  I can see, still, occasionally, my feet, or some rocks.  Why did I go in?

The sea to the west was a sheet of gold flexing like a million soft seeds and it wasn’t enough to look at it like it was a painting.

The difficulty is my waist.  I never think I can make it, the cold cinches, snaps on that delicate skin, but then I have made it, and the last part is a drop, to my shoulders, and I’m in.

I swim breast stroke, upside-down hearts, or a couple of crawl pulls, elbows back, throw shoulders forward.  I tread water, slowly beat arms and legs to stay right where I want to be.  The other woman did headstands, her legs and feet kicked up cockamamie, held a second, fell.

The surf was gentle, only at just the right distance from the shore did you bob and progress a bit with the waves.  I swam parallel to the beach because I had heard that was safe.  I stopped and looked at the the sun’s work again, and it was not enough, just looking at the glittering, and behind it, the ashline of the sun, and the toys of Coney Island far off, mini 4th of July every day, winking, running, switching colors.

It was not enough to be in it, it was not quite enough.

I had to keep moving so the cold couldn’t grasp me, flowing arms and legs to tread water, or to make a meaningless line one way or another.

It was not enough.  Under the dark water, I pulled my swimsuit bottoms down my legs, and unhooked my top and ducked out of it.  I held my swimsuit in my hands and that was better.  I took more upside-down heart strokes and frog kicks, this swimming is natural to me, open, push, open, push.

I dipped my head back, which was another cup of cold, cold cap, but my hair had to be soaked with saltwater, too, with the sea.  I put my finger in my mouth for the salt.

I wove myself back into my swimsuit, which wasn’t easy, it floated around, too.  I swam up, and walked up, out of the water, wrapped myself in the sheet I brought to lie on.  I hadn’t bothered to bring a towel because I rarely swim at the beach.  The sheet was white, so I was a ghost, a little Gandhi style ghost.  The sheet wasn’t very absorbent, but it felt good to be wrapped.  The light was still enough to see the sand I walked on, the remaining light, and the far reaches of the light from the streetlights of the boardwalk.

I stopped at the steps to the boardwalk, wrung out my hair, put on my dress, and took off my suit underneath.  The public bathrooms close early at Coney Island, like 4 o’clock.  No one paid attention, anyway, there were only a few people going by.  New York City will let you smell like an animal who fears water, rant, stumble.

I didn’t want to do any of those things.  I wanted to push to keep my head just above the Atlantic, naked, and see the sun and the water in their last performance of summer as the lights of Coney Island held onto the 4th of July with sprinkles and sparkles.  And have no one see my head, and my kicks, except the other woman, and no one remark, except for the people who happened to walk by, and said, “People are swimming.”