Letters

photo-8This time when I saw the Empire State Building and I had no feeling at all.  I was taking a $100 cab ride across Manhattan.  I had taken a lot of zombie drugs to fly, a little more than usual because my flying lasted 12 hours instead of seven, dosage gets tricky.

I really didn’t know how I felt going into the city to the typewriter shop today, I was looking at the city, as you always do, it always engages, its veins and arteries, its tunnel, its jugular, the fonts of its signs, their faces, its hot greys and greasy whites and lickable filth and I didn’t feel like I have, like, I must get on the subway, and smell it, ride, I must be in New York, it was more like I had been to war and I came home to my wife, and I remembered her through a haze, I didn’t know if I still loved her.  I didn’t even know what she liked.

I went in a small elevator, around an unmarked corner, into the typewriter chapel and I looked at all the letters on circle stamps, white on black, those are my favorite, and the ones all on one bookshelf, ’60s or ’70s colored ones that must be the fashionable ones right now, all of this was how people would write, and I sat and listened to the men talk about springs, carriages, repair, tension, how much will it be? in the most civilized way.

So then this was a different love, of the typewriter repairman and his accent on the flip ends of words, casually, and outside again with the Empire State Building there again, she was a totally different place.

You don’t fall in love with things once, of course.

I have generally viewed my time here more like military service.  It’s true.  Military service does send one to beautiful exotic lands, sometimes, it is not only, not just about killing.  Is it.

I went to evening church and a couple who have been married fifty years had their wedding rings blessed and reapplied, as it were.  I cried, they did not.

The groom (of forever ago and today) had the same glasses of my grandpa, same glasses of which my grandpa took to the east coast and thus I was brought to visit him, thus I was introduced to New York.

I feel very differently.  After I broke up with my ex, I felt so awful for so long, and then I stopped feeling awful and felt great for a while.  Like all the work of grieving paid off, unexpected as a slot machine.  I really felt enlightened for a couple of months.

Sometimes people are happy, just happy, not coping with anything, not wondering if they will have a panic attack or if they will be able to sleep or if they will have jobs or have children or, the rest.

I was happy I kept my typewriter, back in Kansas City, I kept it, despite its heaviness, it is in the corner of my dear friend’s basement, where my other dear friend set it, having taken one of the heavier boxes himself, and that it is there, that I am here, that I may get it back, but it may live there holding its letters and be still and wait.

Raft

IMG_0634I went somewhere I could see the sky, they talk about sky in Montana, I have been there, we have as much.  Sky.

The stairs up, up two stories, metal stairs, open, a little scary, and the High Line once I’m up there makes me a little agoraphobic.  It makes the city zoom up around me.  It gives me a little of the deer-on-savannah feeling.  I like the treed corridors, short as they are, tiny forests.  I like to live tucked-in, mostly, tucked-in and where I can see the vista without it gulping me.

Near the river, a big raft of wood, enough for four or five grown adults to lie peaceful, much better than a bench, I sat on the end nearest the city and lay back.  (Mrs. Winston, 8th grade  English, “green gloves” alliteration in “Evangeline;” lie, lying, lay, lain.)

The sky had room for every cloud, and a sea gull alone.  And one airplane.  And Philip Glass.  And what have I done. and is it really, now, everything that has happened.  And the Empire State Building, straight on, and tucked to the left, north, the Chrysler Building, which is dull without the sun flicking it, the sun did, on and off.  I felt open-hearted, for a minute, and my eyes welled, I wasn’t sure why.

No one else was there, though, just me on the raft, without Huck.  Or without Jim.

The High Line was a full-on railroad line originally, not elevated passenger rail, as I thought.  Then it fell apart.  Then it got fancy.  Someone was repairing a scratch on another bench, and I wondered how long this would be kept up so nicely, how long would people pay for that?  Living in New York in boom times, building times, everyone crowds in times.  When I was first in New York, that was not the time it was.  It will be not this time again, some time. They are building many towers in Manhattan now, and one of them was there, closest, being climbed by one of those cranes that climbs the side as it builds, it makes itself a way up.

I had been to see these nudes that were Manga-faced, classical and assertive and round and magical without being exactly mystical, the more I looked at them, the more I liked them, their commercial taste, the way their genitalia suffered, not quite real, almost dessert, hardly reproductive.  (Mrs. McCue, European History, people are naked, art is nude.)

After standardized testing, I had decided the kids would play Jeopardy.  Instead of me spending an hour asking, begging, bitching, sighing, because they would not work on their essays. They were loud, but that was because they were into it, they believed in my promise of extra credit, though I am known to make extra credit, even in its rarity, mathematically insignificant.  I used to work in research.

One of the questions was what is the name of my cat, and the kids did not know, but afterward they said, oh, you told us that once.  I used to use my cat more in grammar examples.  I go through phases.

Ten years of teaching.  Every one of them has been hard.  In different ways.

I took a quiz to see how much “grit” I have.  I think I scored too high.  I am trying to be smoother.

The sun was on me, that is still one thing to miss here, the sun, the vitamin D full blast sun you must seek out, it won’t happen to you, but there I had it, better because my sleeves were black, they drew the sun deeper into my arms.

Pictured: Kris Martin’s “Altar” on the High Line. The nudes I referred to.

Baltimore

photo-4From an interview with James Baldwin, just after the death of Dr. King:

Baldwin: It is not the black people who have to cool it, because they won’t.

Interviewer: Aren’t they the ones getting hurt the most, though?

Baldwin: That would depend on point of view.  You know, I’m not at all sure that we are the ones who are being hurt the most.  In fact, I’m sure we’re not.  We are the ones who are dying the fastest.

Yesterday I took this long walk in Manhattan from Chelsea to Chinatown, not because they both start with “Ch.”  Purple tulips, one lady with purple hair, one sign with a curl as one of its letters.  The townhouse Edward Hopper painted in, it is on Washington Square Park.  I climbed the steps to see the plaque that explained this, and stood on his stoop a minute.  I planned only to see things I hadn’t seen before, which was more difficult than I thought it would be.  I accidentally walked by the same pharmacy that always makes me think, what a fancy pharmacy, my doctor’s office, and a restaurant I ate in 1996.

Interviewer: Let’s talk about the average citizen, the white man… what should he be doing?

Baldwin: If he feels he wants to save his country, he should be talking to his neighbors and talking to his children….

Interviewer: What should he be telling his neighbors?

Baldwin: That if I go under in this country, I, the black man, he goes too.

I asked three of my students what they thought about the trouble in Baltimore.  Two of them had opinions.  One of them knew someone in Baltimore.  One was like, what?  I told him to look it up.  I printed off that interview with Baldwin, and an excerpt from The Fire Next Time, and I sat and read both with a pencil in hand.

This is from The Fire Next Time:

Neither civilized reason nor Christian love would cause any [white] people ot treat you as they presumably wanted to be treated; only the fear of your power to retaliate would cause them to do that.

Five Bradford pear trees are blooming just outside the school, every time I go out they are there, a white not of purity or emptiness, but of unsplit light, these bloomed branches pressed against the sky so blue it is almost pink.  I walked under them, looked up at them, on my way to buy lunch for myself and a friend.

White people in this country will have quite enough to do in learning how to accept and love themselves and each other, and when they have achieved this– which will not be tomorrow and may very well be never– the Negro problem will no longer exist, for it will no longer be needed.

“It looks like it’s gonna rain,” one of my students said.

“No, it doesn’t,” I said.

“No, it doesn’t,” another kid said.

She looked again at the pink-blue sky.  “Oh, I guess not.”

Something very sinister happpens to the people of a country when they begin to distrust their own reactions as deeply as they do here, and become as joyless as they have become.

The thing right now is “deez nuts,” that is what the kids are saying, pretty much every day, someone, and today I said, “That’s so last week,” and a kid considered, accepted that perhaps this was true, the saying was worn out.

Whatever white people do not know about Negroes reveals, precisely and inexorably, what they do not know about themselves.

I saw also that my heart was full of little holes, pinpricks, and this is why it has trouble holding things, sometimes.

If the concept of God has any validity or any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving.  If God cannot do this, then it is time we got rid of Him.

Somewhat

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“They called you madame, did you care?”

“No,” I said, ” But I am mademoiselle.”

I forget that when I am with a man, people may think I am his.

One year and seven months and two weeks in New York, of three years.

There is no 3 train, there is 4 train, but then one must get off and wait for 3 train, too late to robe at church, but past the gone daffodils in the church garden I got in in time to hear the gospel and walk up as we all shook hands to tell the priest I would help.  He seemed cool.  Daffodils are so weak when they’re alone.

The church door was open for the day.  A little girl stomped around.  We never have children at our little evening service.

Old white lady sitting on sidewalk singing to herself, “The rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain.”

My neighbor and his busted foot I told him I made the spring I would get on healing his foot with my voodoo which I do not have.

Once I had a crushing panic attack in the basement of the Met, in the cafeteria, many times I had a salad, once I split a bottle of wine and looked at almost no art.  Just a great Franz Marc that I wish was not of cows, but is, the marble floor that looks like it has moss in it, and two Roman bronzes of girls almost grasping a partridge.  A girl trying her damndest to get to Christmas.

My yesterday cab driver, after we discussed the beauty of the day and his two children: “I hate driving cab.”

“I’m sorry.”

“You should ask your next driver, does he like being cab driver?  Wonder what he say.”

And a Roman sculpture for a tomb, with the man’s face carved, the woman’s still a blotchy block, a barely nose-like, a somewhat forehead.  She never died, or they never paid a sculptor to sculpt her, or he never had a wife at all.

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Images: Girl pursuing a partridge, Roman, Sacrophagus lid, Roman, both Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Heavy/Light

photo-3The carpet and the kneelers are red.  The Christ holds a big blank ball.  Presumably, the world.

One of the graves in the Trinity churchyard is for a fictional character.  “Charlotte Temple” was a character in Charlotte, a Tale of Truth, published 1791.  The sign says, “Legend has it that the name…was carved by a bored stone cutter while working on the church.  It is unknown if anyone is interred in the vault beneath the stone.”

The subway preacher begins in Manhattan, singing of the glory of God, but by Brooklyn God will punish both you and your enemies.  In the most amazing way, everyone is listening yet only one person shows it, one responder to call.  I stand.  I think about his arguments and my thumb plays swap the colors on my phone.

The spring means you can see the graveyard.  The cemetery was founded in 1697. My ancestor, Harmen Schurman, died in New Amsterdam in 1649.  In spite of the great age of the stones in the place, the first Schurman in Manhattan had already been dead for more than forty years when the first grave was dug.  They have those kindly skulls, the inscription “Here lies the body of…” as if you weren’t sure what might be buried in a graveyard.

One of them has a wholesome warning about how even you, dear reader, will die.  That is William Bradford, publisher.  Bradford knew Benjamin Franklin.  Bradford lived on Stone Street, which is where I had lunch today.  He printed the first book in New York City.

Last night I read one of the stories of Christ appearing to the disciples after the crucifixion.  It says that they thought Christ was a ghost, and he had to prove he wasn’t.  Thus, ghosts are real.  No one said they weren’t.

The graveyard has free wi-fi, so a woman was holding up an iPad and having some sort of work meeting on a bench.  A tree with white blossoms was blossoming.  Tulip arms were up, but not heads.

I ate lunch with my colleague and we told stories and we really enjoy each others’ stories.  When we came out of the restaurant the brick street was full of not just tables and awnings but everyone at lunch and free.

When you see the Christ with the world, you might recall he said, “My burden is light.”

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Stone/Flesh

DT3358What I remember this year from Holy Week is heart of stone into heart of flesh.  That was Ezekiel.  I did not get to read it.  The other server and I fought, and I lost.  So I got to listen to it.

If there was a church of Shakespeare, I would go there, too.

I would fight to read there, too, and light the candles any time they needed me.

It’s my secret ambition to add all of Shakespeare to the Bible.  I am making no progress in this.

When my friend was hurt four months ago, I thought, we will never eat at our restaurant again.  That was how my grief expressed itself.  Losses are specific.

What I will never do with my grandmother is pat her shoulder to try to make her feel okay for a minute.

Last night my little cadre of friends I grew up with, not from childhood but through adulthood, maybe a more eventful growing up, actually, probably a rougher one, we all had dinner at our restaurant like not a fucking thing had happened, except that we all got our minds blown and one of us was physically stomped about as much as a person can be.  Everyone ordered the same thing they always order, and it was hard to believe it was happening, really, it was like, is this it?  This is it.

Reminding me of the Holocaust survivor I heard speak who said, “Don’t ever take for granted a quiet evening at home.”  Just being around for the regular bullshit of wondering about your choices and how time is passing and what it all means is a great victory.

I’m just very tired.

I sat on my dad’s porch while my brother smoked and we were both like, who are you?  Except that we know each other like we know ourselves.  No surprises.

I drove the convertible home with the top down.  It was cloudy.

I feel like a spring pressed down here after about two days.  I have to get out and for one reason or another walk a long, long way.  This is the way I’m a New Yorker.

There I am black and white, and thin, here I am full and fat and dizzy.

That and that there is nothing in New York I think should be different, I think it is all perfect, the rich, subway delays, piss in the street.

The first sentence of the next novel I’ll read: “The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.”

Image: Men Shoveling Chairs, Circle of Rogier van der Weyden, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The novel Murphy, Samuel Beckett.

Ezekiel 36:25.

Dogs of New York

For my grandmother. DP821957

Dogs not trying to poop.

Dogs being hustled.

Dogs too old to walk, cantering.

Outrageously tall dogs.

Overly done dogs.

Dogs who know you see them pee.

Dogs having the time of their lives.

Dogs wearing approved medical devices.

Dogs recently shaved and emotionally vulnerable.

Dogs with ears back.

Competent dogs.

Dogs so small they might be breathed in accidentally.

Dogs who don’t know any better.

Dogs getting away with things.

Dogs who think they should be allowed in Duane Reade.

Dogs with middle names.

Dogs with last names.

Dogs who are supposed to guard who instead lick.

Dogs who were supposed to lick and instead bite.

Dogs who are clearly assholes.

Dogs who sleeping in the kitchen behind a gate.

Dogs who can digest Barbie heads.

Dogs who crave fresh underwear.

Dogs who are afraid to go.

Dogs who couldn’t run, anyway.

Dogs who clearly ought to run small limited liability corporations.

Dogs with fur as fluffy as a parachute.

Dogs who are naturally practically naked.

Dogs who are treated like girls, but are male.

Dogs who ask questions later.

Dogs who smelly gummy.

Dogs who know what shampoo does.