Close planes (toys, ideas)

far planes (so minor do you mind)

and seagulls, the size between,

they go as gentlemen

no one rushes them,

in and out of dens,

no one holds them up, with sticks,

no one hung them there, on invisible lines,

wheels tucked, feet tucked,

pasted on

the same air

the only air we have,

what we all must share, that sky,

with cement, painted on with the brush

that’s fastened in the lid of the jar,

the sky is flat,

they guzzle tinkly

metal pin tunes

when at home

and when out

turn them

out from inside themselves.

Image: “Roofs and Sky,” Louis Lozowick, Metropolitan Museum of Art.




dp248330This is an apocryphal story in my family: a dad took his family to New York, saw a guy with the cards on a card table on the street, said, “I can do this!” and lost all their trip money in four minutes.  Three card monte.

“You have a lovely voice,” said the woman to my left, who had brought her husband.

“Thank you.”

“What’s this?” said the guy on the other side of me.

“It’s from ‘Guys and Dolls,’ it has Frank Sinatra, you’ll love it,” I said to the handsome Indian guy with glasses.

“You can bring him up to speed,” I said to his boyfriend, when they switched places.  “You can work with him.”

“Yeah,” he said.  “He’s a good guy.”

For at least half an hour, I was having fun.  This night the piano player was different last night, they’re always enthusiastic, of course, or pretend to be, that’s the job, but last night, he was bursting out of his skin, rocket fuel, there was a concentration, fluidity, ease, in the keys, the banter, the way the songs went into each other, the way he defended himself as they must against one or another drunk demanding a dumb song.  Last night it was no problem.  There were no problems.

We sang “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered,” which I didn’t recall singing before, nice, even if we didn’t get to the dirty verse, and “Maybe” from “Annie,” which we don’t sing often, but I love.

Maybe far away

or maybe real nearby

she may be pouring his coffee

he may be straightening his tie

When the waiter came back and I ordered a whiskey, he said, “Good girl.”  There are two other people who say this to me, my godmother and my stepmom.  My godmother, when I do something brave like move to New York, and my stepmom when I remember to put the convertible top back on my dad’s car.

While I was waiting for my coffee the next morning, a woman said, “Do you live around here?”

“Well,” I said, “In New York, yeah, but not around here.”

“Well my church is having a….”

“I just came from church,” I said, which should have been enough.

“Well, we’re having a seminar about how prophesies are coming true….”

That is the last thing I want to hear about.  Wait, which prophesies?  I figured she meant the evil dictator ones, not the lion and the lamb lying down.  I didn’t figure she was going to invite me to sit and hear someone say it was going to be all right, that every valley would be exalted and every mountain and hill would be made low, and the crooked made straight, and the rough places, plain.

Somewhere it’s all right, but not here.

Maybe in a house

all hidden by a hill

she’s sitting playing piano

he’s sitting paying a bill

It was raining ice today.  Still I got up and dressed and walked through it, walked slowly on ice sidewalks to the subway, red umbrella arch proscenium over my view of our boulevard with its black scratch trees in two lines, then even more slowly down the subway steps that were almost underwater.

I was only a little late, I had missed only the opening hymn and prayers.  I sat in a pew right behind a stone pillar, its soft shape attracted me, when we stood for the gospel, I touched it because it looked soft, and it wasn’t.

“She loves chocolate,” someone told me.

“But she hasn’t had it in two years?” I said.

“She’s fasting from chocolate,” someone said.

“That’s intense,” I said.  “I used to fast for Lent.  I don’t any more.  Once I had given up alcohol, and I ended up sitting with two poets and a painter until late at night, and they got more and more beautiful and I got duller.  Never again.”

I didn’t say exactly that, but that was what I meant.

Betcha they’re good

why shouldn’t they be

I undecorated the Christmas tree.  Pulled the red shiny balls off the branches.  The branches were as crunchy as bones.  The lights were wound around folded, old sections of the New York Times, a newspaper full of lies and fake news.  I pulled the popcorn string off.  I opened my bedroom window, fished each string out, and shut the window on the end of the string, so birds would eat them, or squirrels, hopefully not rats, but if rats, oh, well.

My roommate carried the tree down to the sidewalk, lay it on top of the black trash bags and their snow coats.  I crossed myself.  It seemed like the thing to do.

Maybe now this prayer’s 

the last one of its kind

won’t you please come get your baby


Image: “Planning the Capture of Booth” by Alexander Gardner, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

“Annie” lyrics by Martin Charnin.

The Sweetness of Venus

dp232920Last week I sat at a table with one of my students, I asked what she wanted to do first, she said, “Let’s read these poems.”

I said, “I like to read poems three times.”

This isn’t true, I much prefer to read things once, like a slob, but I have accepted the wisdom of reading a poem three times.

“Okay, we can take turns,” she said.

We took turns.  One half of the cafeteria was packed.  It was the first week of winter classes, all the kids were catching up with each other.  In the other half, the tables were all set with braided rolls and bottles of grape juice, by the Jewish group, for Shabbat.

I’m not quite used to how instead of persuading, convincing, or steamrolling kids into doing what’s good for them, my tutoring students are ready and eager to do pretty much whatever I suggest.

It’s like I’m driving around in second gear, on the snow, when I used to be 70 on the interstate, in the rain.

It was a poem about a woman getting older and losing her beauty, which meant something to me.  I don’t know what it might mean to my 19-year-old student.

The poem has “permanent blue stitches in her cheeks,” which reminded me of  when I saw a tiny blood vessel showing through my cheek.  Later that day, I  walked into my mother’s house, and I said, “Look at this, I’m a monster.”

“No one can even see that,” they said.

The poem talked about “sucking in her stomach,” which was what I had been doing, it was my main comfort, after the election, doing ballet, a great part of which is sucking in your stomach.  Not to look sexy, but to strengthen it, so someone can punch you, and he will hurt his hand.

It talks about a “dumb blonde,” which reminded me of how my uncles used to tease me about being a dumb blonde, when I was a little girl.  In fact, being dumb about anything, even for a moment, improve my disposition.

They also used to put their elbows on my head and say, “You make a good armrest.”

Although I grew up in this family, I still held a strong notion that the way I looked was important.  That at any event, holiday, having a great dress and being beautiful would impress everyone, and maybe more than that, they would understand me.  I can’t separate the pleasure of being thought beautiful from the surge of love that comes from being understood.

“Something she had carried a long ways,/but had no use for anymore,” my student read.

“Saturday Night Live” did their duty improving our spirits by making laughs out of a lot of terrors this week.  One of the lines was about how women reacted to DT: “every single one of the women was ovulating left and right,” which was maybe funnier to me because I don’t ovulate any more.  So I have been told.  It’s hard to think of anything less relaxing, less sensual, less arousing, than that man in his current incarnation.

“‘To wave their flags in the parade,'” my student quoted.  “What is that about?”

We talked about flowers.

The other poem she had to read was “The Soul Selects Her Own Society.”

“That isn’t really the title,” I said.  “She didn’t title her poems.  They just gave them titles.”

“Well, I won’t read it like the title, then,” she said.

There were two women I wanted to be: Isak Dinesen and Emily Dickinson.  I wanted to go far away, teach kids, plant things, throw beautiful parties, be tragic, hide at home, and write.  It worked out.

“Unmoved– an Emperor be kneeling,” she read.

“She didn’t capitalize like that, either,” I said.  “No one is sure how she capitalized.”

“Choose one,” he read.

Then I read it: “Close the valves of her attention.”

“I guess they knew about heart valves, then, they were confused about a lot of things, but they should know that, at least,” I said.

One of the earliest people to understand the heart was Galen, who lived in 2nd century Greece. He learned a lot about how the heart functioned by observing, and, at times, repairing, the wounds of gladiators.  He got a lot right, saved a lot of gladiators, but like many biologists from way back, he had this obsession with the liver that led him astray.  He thought the liver pumped the oxygenated blood.

It was Italian doctor Realdo Columbo who figured out that the four valves of the heart pump blood in one direction only.

Coincidentally, Columbo was also the first Westerner to suggest that the clitoris had something to do with making women feel good.  It’s hard to imagine just how popular this made him in 1559.  He tried to name it “the sweetness of Venus,” but unfortunately this did not catch on.  Italian men, huh?  I don’t know, when I went to Italy, I had a boyfriend back home and thus did no research.

What is there left in this thorny-news world mess?  We do still have the clitoris.

I did get a little drunk in Italy, every day I was there.  I wasn’t there very long.  I had to go back to my hotel and take siestas, it was so hot, ninety, a hundred degrees.  I wore dresses, always, they were cooler, and when I got back to my room, I pulled my dress off over my head and lay on the bed.  Had I remembered to check if my hotel had air conditioning?  I had.  It was cool in my room, even on the top floor, under the eaves, the ceiling sloped low.  I moved a chair right under it so I would remember to duck.

The coolest place I went was under, deep under, the church of San Clemente.  Down many stairs, into where it was dark and echoey, past a room that was a temple to Mithros, down and around, into the deepest room, where there was nothing to see but a spring, and nothing to hear but our voices echoing with each other, and the running water.

Image: “Georgia O’Keefe- Hand and Breasts” by Alfred Stieglitz, Metropolitan Museum of Art

How Many Stops


16387251_10210049804655943_5719521708065457874_nLast week, after the Women’s March, I was worn out from marching, and probably from the celebratory drinking we did, too.  The day after was hard.  What now?  I was exhausted and more than a little depressed, and I slept through church.

This week, I got to church, where our priest went slowly through the Beatitudes, without any political reference, which was still enough to make me tear up more than once, and then he ended with, “Some of us from here are going to a protest in Battery Park at 2.”

Was it necessary to explain how the gospel connected to a sudden and illogical block on people coming to America?  It wasn’t.

He could have talked about how Jesus and his friends lived under an oppressive regime and how Jesus always reached out to people he had been told were his enemies, but of course that was not necessary.

Everyone applauded, which has been happening in the last month, people applauding sermons, even Episcopalians, who would generally rather die than have feelings.

I was really not sure I could make this protest, though, I was dressed to walk a block to church and two blocks to my writing space, wearing my tall shoes, and my pretty ankles were bare between leggings and shoes.

But how could I not, I was right there, so I parked in a Pret a Manger with my egg salad sandwich for an hour.  In an impressive gesture of self care, I even ate an entire banana, which I would normally find impossible.  Everyone knows half a banana is always enough.

I walked down to the park, I had been putting it off until time, I had no idea how many people might be there.

There were a lot of people.

Castle Clinton, which is an old fort, a circle, that has the ticket booth for Statue of Liberty tickets in the center of it, was the front of the rally.  Another circle, north of Castle Clinton, was where everyone was gathering.

The priest said that being “poor in spirit” meant you knew you needed God.

I couldn’t get on board with that, which is strange, right, for such a religious person as I am.  Need God?  Either I feel God is so much a part of me, this is a silly question, like do I need a head?  Or I feel like the concept of God makes me squirm and limits me, I feel more like the truth is I have a spirit, and that spirit is what is real, not any of the other stuff around that people are always trying to tell you is true, money, stuff, power.

It just pushes my buttons, the idea I could need anything.  A lot of my attention in life has focused on how I can not need anything.  Not much money.  Not much space.

I’m not saying that’s great, but that’s how I am.

For the third time since the inauguration, I was in a friendly crowd, periodically yelling, doing our chants.  This crowd was less with the signs– the rally was as unexpected as the president’s bizarre executive order.

We chuckled when the leaders tried to get us to chant things that varied too much (first time: “Muslims,” second time: “immigrants,” third time: “refugees,” is way too much).  When they tried to get us to do one that didn’t work too well, I said, “It’s better when it rhymes,” and people chuckled again.

Even the biggest problems have to be faced with laughter.

I listened to both our senators.  Senator Schumer talked about his middle name being Ellis, and his daughter’s middle name being Emma (for the Island and poet Lazarus, respectively), and everyone thought that was perfectly nice.  But Senator Gillibrand, who has voted against all the president’s nominees, got a much better introduction, and a lot more cheers.  Maybe Schumer has a long game here, I can respect that, but at this moment, his softer stance doesn’t appeal.

We were all surrounding the biggest lawn in the park.  Protesters started walking across it, toward the front, and the rest of eyed them nervously.  Were they supposed to be doing that?  They were.  They kept coming, and someone at the microphone explained the police were letting people in there.  The streets were too full.

I felt a little bad for anyone who wanted to see the Statue of Liberty today.

Once they got through the protesters, they should have been okay to get on the ferry, though.

I gave the protest an hour.  My feet hurt.  I was cold.  I hadn’t gotten my coffee yet, which meant I was going to get a headache.  I hadn’t gotten to my writing space yet.

I squeezed through the crowd going all the way back.  As I was leaving, a lot of people were just showing up.  See, I give an hour, they give another hour, it all works out.  I went down to the R train tracks, and across the way, I saw that people were so crowded, trying to get up to the protest with their signs, that it was taking forever.  That station is small and narrow.  Everyone was patient.

A group of kids kept doing the chants.  They were having a good time with “We are immigrants” and “Tell me what democracy looks like/this is what democracy looks like!”

By the time our train came, there was such a crowd on our platform, we had a hard time getting on, and the conductor politely said, “Work with me folks, let’s get these doors closed.”  We did.

The R train and I have a troubled relationship right now, though.  Two weeks ago, R train decided to go Express, taking me way past my stop, so I had to get off and go back.

Today, a mom had just told her kid, “It’s twelve stops,” and the kid had just said, “Aw!”  And I remembered how parents can’t control how far away things are.  Even when they really want to.

The conductor announced the train was going express, and I said, “Man, this happened last time I was on this train, too!”

The kid said, “But my mom just said it was twelve stops, and now it isn’t!”

“Well, you win some, you lose some,” I said.

“Yep,”the mom said.