Thursday, December 23, 2010

Three Moments in NYC


My train stops at Harlem 125th Street, mythical location of Langston Hughes poems, James Baldwin stories, and so it is that I find myself on my journey. NYC is so foreign to me. All of it. Fabulous, bewildering, exhilarating and foreign. Tenement housing whirs by as we lurch forward again, red brick landscape slips across tempered glass like text-less microfiche. Next stop, Grand Central. Upper West Side. Noe. The visual birth of Inertia. Another way to be in this life.

I sit in a coffee shop called Utopia where Broadway and Amsterdam meet in a criss-cross intersection at 72nd. The subway station rises from the sidewalk like an Upper West Side mini-Louvre. The busboy keeps passing my table and speaking very sweetly in Spanish. Signed head shots smile or smolder from frames on the wall--Susan Sarandon (smile), Sandra Bullock (smolder), Lisa Kudrow (big smile), Dennis Quaid (smile), Mariah Carey (big smolder). Christmas decorations dangle from the ceiling, and I listen to the small talk at the counter. A fall at 93 is different from a fall at 40. Cat sitting? I'll watch your cat for $200 a week! Allergies even in snow. ATM idiosyncrasies. The man at the register knows everyone's names, and I think if I lived here (God forbid I should live in this wonderful, terrible, godforsaken city), I would come here every day for the tastiest $1.37 worth of coffee 'in town' and for the kindness of these strangers.

A few moments with you, P, and all of the grief of these past years breaks open like an egg in your heart. You have been left defenseless. Wet hair and without my panties in the ER room, you repeat indignantly. Hapless combination of vision and poetry, drugs and fear, and alas, the wildest kind of hope. This is what has left you reeling--a whirligig off its axis and tumbling up into the ether. No way to collect yourself, littered across the sky in delicate, iridescent fragments. I love this city, you intone, and you mean it. You hug yourself as your fanciful eyes follow the slim lines of tall buildings that make a landing strip of a secretly limitless sky, and I wind my arm through yours as we go, hoping that my love will find its way in to where you are.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

In response to Kseniya Simonova's Sand Art...

She waits, she sews, she sows, she grows--old. What we ask of ourselves, of each other, the candles we light, the vigils we keep as the veil of our age descends before our eyes, our lips, our collar bones trembling like birds in nests. What if one's whole lifetime is used up by waiting? What if the whole of her experience is centered in longing?

Her fingers move along the edge of the envelope--after all the waiting, this need to pause again. What news? What news? I grow old, I grow cold, says the poet, but such aging is not rooted in the body. It is the way life tires us, how it wrings us like garments in a river and leaves us flaccid and losing our substance with every drop of water that evaporates, every bit of moisture that lifts away from us and into the sky.

We are dry, finally, insubstantial, quavering like rice paper cut into prayer flags and strung across an empty space. In hope. In hope.

To see Simonova's moving performance art piece that inspired this writing, see

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Monarch for a Moment

The last time I saw you alive you were driving in a 4-wheel drive truck much too big for your little body. Your pale wrists flashed above the steering wheel as you made the right turn onto Mamalahoa Highway. You didn't see me--how could I have known?

When you misunderstood me that night--in our last class of the writing circle--your eyes grew round and dark with expression, and you seemed so relieved. I knew you had misunderstood, believed for a moment that I had said our class would continue and not end. It seemed like a lifeline to you then. No, I corrected you. It was ending, and this was the last class. So typical you would not have gathered this from the various conversations and would emerge from your pink cloud only now to interject your misshapen response. Oh. Danielle.

I know there were other ways for you to be whole and peaceful and to love yourself even a little. I know I couldn't have stopped your momentum away from us and toward the ether. But I would give a million monarchs back to the sky to have you here for one more day, assign you one more poem, tell you one more time how beautiful and how fierce were your words...and your love.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Animal Dreams

I skulk here in my darkness. I have lifted myself down into it, chosen shadow for its anonymity and the comfort of its vagueness.

"Big animal dark," said the poet* and I lick my shiny white teeth, breathe long and slow--primal rise and fall of rib cage, of breasts, of knowing. Surge of the feral wanting that wrings me from myself.

What curls around my ears like steam is the alchemical potion of love and fear, interepidity and shame--paradoxical infusion steeping like tea in my flip-top head.

I run my hand over the 'animal dream'--its heart beats yet, though I have denied it. So familiar, it nuzzles into my palm, remembers me to myself.

"What you long for also longs for you," she said, but if one's longing takes the shape of the night sky and adorns itself with starlight, then how can one distinguish between her own heart and a vaguely pulsing planet? What if, after all, what one longs for is her secret self alone in the universe and hidden, though it clamors its insistent rhythm into the ether?

Is there no peace to be had? No quiet and no napping language--only sighs and the soft moan of time passing without our understanding?