Very Small Things

As the lesson said, “mustard seed,” I thought there must be smaller things than that, things so small that is the size of the faith that I have, like, perhaps a speck of dust.  Last night I was taking the train home and suddenly realized that I had no money, and would never have any money again.

Then I played this game I like, which is, I need something/what do you need?  Feeling poor (as opposed to actually being poor, which I am not) is about thinking there is something that would make you happy, you just can’t afford it.

This game worked well, as the 4 train stopped and went and stopped and went along back to Brooklyn.  I couldn’t figure out what I wanted that I couldn’t have it seemed like I actually had what I wanted.

I had spent the evening watching a documentary about the New York pavilion from the 1964 World’s Fair.  Many people have tried to protect and preserve the flying saucers on sticks that sit in Queens, patiently rotting.

The documentary was shown at City Reliquary, a place that was on my list of spots to visit in the city.  When I walked in, a woman with nicely curled hair said, “Welcome, admission is free,” and I walked through a turnstile for no apparent reason but the love of turnstiles.

Among the incredibly adorable things they have are:

  • a dancing mannequin in tribute to Little Egypt, the famous burlesque dancer, and a (formerly) nearby theater founded by Fanny Brice
  • samples of soil from each of the five boroughs
  • a pretend wedding cake from a beloved Mexican bakery now out of business
  • rocks collected at Rockaway Beach
  • a listening station to hear “The Bridge” by Sonny Rollins, surrounded by information about the Williamsburg Bridge, which inspired the piece
  • pieces of stone from famous building of New York: the Waldorf Astoria, the Guggenheim
  • a hammer labeled “very old hammer”

The hammer was my favorite.

Earlier in the week, I had been to the Met’s exhibit about Jerusalem.  (For the bargain price of $1.)  They had stained glass windows, marble carvings, gold trays, Bibles and prayer books and Korans, it was all beautifully done.  It didn’t move me nearly as much as the grubby City Reliquary, though.

They did have two manuscripts written in Maimonedes’s own hand, as the label said, and that blew my mind.  In one of them, he is raising money to ransom people who have been kidnapped.  In his own hand.

Six years ago, I went into a junk shop in Iowa City and found this little bronze Arab-looking guy sitting cross-legged, and I loved him, and bought him, and took him home, and then I figured out he was Maimonides.  Maimonides is a strange person for me to love, since he is most known for his interest in the law and science, two areas which aren’t exactly my greatest passions.

After church I took the train to coffee, and on the way, I, and many of my fellow New Yorkers, had to walk a million miles under the Fulton Street station because  not only is the 3 train not running today, the A and the C and the 1 are not running, either.

When I finally got on a train, there was this foursome standing next to me, four adults and a baby I was making eyes at, they were trying to figure out how to get to 96th Street, they had taken the train downtown to get uptown, which is the worst thing in the world except taking it from Brooklyn to Manhattan to get to Brooklyn again.  “The weekend train is so awful, especially today,” I said, and then I chatted with one of the ladies.  “You just gotta have patience, what else can you do?”

We chatted a while until the guy with her tried to interrupt, and she said, “Excuse me, I’m talking to this nice lady.”

Then I told her to have a nice afternoon, and I got off at 14th Street, and I felt like I had what I needed.



“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.


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


For all we know, the soul of Perneb is wandering around, flustered, like a smoker without a Quik Trip at 3 am.  Perneb believed, or at least some of his friends and family believed, that he needed a tomb with a false door to keep his soul nourished.  Unfortunately, Mr. Edward S. Harkness gave Perneb’s tomb to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1913, and they hauled it over to New York City, stone by stone.

What if someone bought your dad’s grave and took it apart and sent it far away, so you couldn’t leave flowers?  What if we moved the Jews out of Jerusalem and told them Beijing is just as good?  What if we turned the Lincoln Memorial into a casino?  How close in time or space do people have to be to earn our respect?  How long dead is dead enough to be disregarded?

In Chicago, at the Field Museum, visitors circulate past at least a dozen dead bodies.  The ancient Egyptians felt like bodies were important.  So important that they carefully preserved them.  Their religious beliefs don’t matter to us, though.  For us, their religion is foolish and primitive, and their execution of religious ritual is only something to be studied and gawked at.  Mummies of men, women, and children are on display.  Some people say, “Ooh, gross, spooky.”  Some people look soberly at death.

I wouldn’t have such a problem with this if I weren’t well aware that many people find my religion foolish and primitive.  Our main story is about a guy coming back from the dead, a motif so common in the ancient world as to be wholly unremarkable.  In fact, the ancient Egyptians used that story too, it’s just that their guy was named “Osiris,” and he appears bandaged up, returning to his beloved wife, in a tender alternate version of the Jesus story.  Death can’t beat us.  Human love is powerful.  That’s what they believed.  That’s what I believe.

The mummies in Chicago are residents of a Natural History Museum, and they certainly are history.  Many places, though, including Kansas City, mummies are in art museums.  What makes a mummy art?  It wasn’t intended for display.  It was intended for burial.  I don’t understand how it could be art any more than a corpse straight from Newcomer’s Funeral Home.  There is an art to caring for and decorating the dead.  My great-grandfather was that sort of artist.  I’m just not sure it’s an art that belongs in a museum.

I suspect that the preservation of the body is not necessary for the health of the soul.  It does say something about us, though, that we have rather recently come to show some meager respect to Native American religious beliefs, and continue to show absolutely none to people whose cultures have died or morphed beyond recognition.  Separating who you respect from who you don’t is a dangerous game.

Perneb’s name means “my Lord has come forth to me.”  He worked in the court, robing and crowning the king.  We don’t know a lot else about him.  It’s possible he’d even be pleased about his change of eternal address.  I hope that, like me, he loves being in New York.