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.

The Real Criminals

DT1158I was sitting on the train looking out the open doors to the platform, the doors were open, a woman took out a book without looking at it, a yellow paperback, and she held it up, upside-down, then she looked down, and she turned it around.

The class I was in was about resurrection, and I had to admit, I didn’t think I believed in it.  What I do believe in is transcendence.  I know how to be bigger.  I can almost always sit or kneel and close my eyes and be bigger.

I walked by a long plate glass window and even with the glare I could see there was a huge screen of floating pink flower petals behind the man in the suit.  The man in the suit looked at me, smiled, waved me to come in.  I was like, no.

I turned the corner and there were at least four more guys in suits, all young, beautiful men in suits, which is something I don’t mind looking at at all, it is no trouble, and two more of them invited me in, and I looked away.  I stopped once I was past and wondered why I had not gone in.  I felt like I should stop and say, “I don’t have any money,” as the whole thing was so lavish and I was not about to buy anything they were selling.

I turned around and went back, each suited man greeted me, one gave me a booklet and explained this was a “multisensory experience,” I went inside, around a corner past the flower petal screen, the first man approved of me changing my mind.

Each little station inside, it was quite dark, soft black.  At each station a beautiful, well-shaven man looked into my eyes and told me, in a pearl voice, the honorable act I was about to engage in.  And I stopped to look over into pools of water full of rose petals, when you bent over, the water knew, and parted, and a beautiful fact about the special roses, grown only in a certain town in France, used for perfume appeared.  A pool of jasmine petals was on the other side.

I moved my hand through beams of light that played notes, making a chord like the chord of the perfume, with all those notes.  I looked at a bunch of clear plastic squares hung up in a neat pattern, no one explained that one to me.  Finally the last suited man told me to walk up and lean into a cutout of a perfume bottle and smell.  Ah, there was the smelling, they saved that for last, of course.

When I thought of the rent on that space, and the cost of the suits, and the men, it was clearer to me where my money spent on perfume goes.  It was equally upsetting and great.  What is a scent without mysticism?

Church the next week, I thought of a few other things I believe in: submission.  To your fate, that is, what is happening and not happening to you now, to ideas bigger than you, to pain, to forgiveness.

I went to Williamsburg for this lecture on the prison system.  Williamsburg is one of those “cool” parts of Brooklyn that I do not live in.  The volume of young people and cute restaurants exhausted me.  I went into the theater for the lecture, and sat next to a long red rope hanging from the ceiling.

The talking about prisons included liberal bemoaning “the real criminals,” an old woman jumping up and demanding we speak about police violence (at her age I will let her say whatever, but it was boring), and us all congratulating each other for being such eager to pay taxes, open minded people.

People who all love the idea of living next door to, say, a convicted sex offender.  Or paying higher taxes in this already wicked expensive city.

A white guy asked about how not to be scared for the girls in prison he was working with, and five people jumped in and explained why he shouldn’t be scared of people who are in prison, or have been in prison, in fact, I was incarcerated, they look just like you and me.  A man who has been making regular trips to Rikers is, you know, not afraid of people in prison, but they heard what they expected to hear.

Did I have to move to Brooklyn to love Republicans?  No.  I already loved them.  I just appreciate them in a different way now, raging liberal though I remain.

The great parts were: the magnificently pinstripe suit attired, slightly bumbly, hot shit cohost of the panel.  She had crazy hair.  She has her own dance company.  Also: that red rope?  That was her thing.  We were told to pull the ropes whenever we wanted, to keep things “risky,” which, philosophically, they were not, but with paper scraps and white feathers occasionally raining down, they were more interesting.  I tucked one feather, and one scrap of black paper, into my purse.

I took the train back into Manhattan and then back into Brooklyn, to home, it was faster, don’t ask, all the time reading, thinking I could not listen to music or play my all-important candy crush knockoff game.  All my progress in conquering pretend Australia: gone.  My phone had been stolen that afternoon.  I felt very strongly that things would not be all right until I had a phone again.  All the music I had ever bought on actual CDs, gone, gone, I had not gotten around to moving it to my laptop.  I had left all the actual CDs in my last move.

When I walked into my living room, I thought, oh, home.  I didn’t remember ever having thought that of the apartment in quite that way, home seemed more like a word for it I was expected to use.  My cat walked out of my bedroom and fell on her side to show me her belly.

Image: Flower Study, Rose of Sharon, Adolphe Braun, 1854, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Web

photo 1In the lobby, a plexiglass box with a theater light under it, petals open.  In the box, a spiderweb.  That was all.

Black curtains, two sets, to go through, a sign that said, “Exhibit continues behind curtain,” because it is unclear in these Chelsea galleries where an exhibit might continue and where it might be office space, I have made the mistake before, seen just a desk and a too-young person getting paid probably nothing to do something on a computer.

Through the curtains, two sets so sunlight and office light never come in, five more boxes.  Four are plexiglass, with spiderwebs, lights placed to tickle them just right, and one is open.  A spider is still working there.

Once upon a time I was a person who screamed and shook and took a whole day and her Majesty’s prayer book’s funeral service to pick up the bathroom rug and take it outside and just leave it there next to the house with the dead mouse in it, now I am a person who gets the dustpan, sweeps the mouse corpse in, and puts it in the trash, and sighs.

Once upon a time I trembled and held a vacuum attachment far from me to evacuate the spider in the kitchen.  I may be improved, I don’t know.

There was a group of ladies being given some sort of tour, talking about going to the new Whitney on its opening day, I had already decided I did not have the constitution to face the celebration, and would pilgrimage there another time.  Soon.

It is a funny thing to explain to my students why a character we are reading about is pushing the envelope by wearing an African print dress and a head wrap.  Here in New York City, in Chelsea, in 2015.

It is a funny thing to hear my students talk about longing for the suburbs.  It always has been.  My city kids and what they mean by “getting out,” different from what I meant.

What I hated, I think, was that in the suburbs, people acted as if life was fair, as if all the weed-free lawns and never-crime and A students were a reward for something they had done.  Well.  I did, too, until I had to stop.  Maybe I would have forever.

The tour guide lady said the spiders were still in some of the boxes.  They died for art?  Heavens.  The open one, though, that had a live spider in it.  “See her?” she said, and I stood as near the group as I could, awkward as it was, them and me and the spider guard the only ones in the dark room except that one live spider, see her?  She’s moving now.  See her?

Former student reminds me of something he said that made me laugh, a few years ago.  What I think about is how I may have failed him, them, how ever I did, surely somehow, but what he remembers is a moment of my personality and his, little moment from our being chained together for a year, the way students and teachers are, sometimes for good, sometimes for ill.

This spring, at least three of them graduating from college, and one drafted to play for our hometown pro football team.  It still amazes me, as many times as I said, “You are going to college, you will grow up,” I did not believe myself.

From Pierre, the Melville novel I am still (barely and rarely) reading, the protagonist sees a speech in Hamlet, and a passage from Dante, and is troubled: yes, life is hell, and yes, you have to do something about it.

The other pieces in the show, upstairs and in the daylight, skylight, were made of wire, helium, balloons, fishing line, rocks.  And amazed in their lightness, simple trickery of looking like floating, really looking like floating, but then, helium, fishing line, wire not cages but form for form.

photo 2

Images here by me.

For much better images, including of the spiderwebs:

Tomas Saraceno show at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery

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.