I wonder sometimes, about memory, about that time we were playing Good Guys And Monsters in the Big Yard, me and Joey and Nora and Henry and everyone, and we saw that couple having sex, at least that’s what Marissa said they were doing (you must understand, in the Big Yard, in the corner, beyond the fence, there was this little space that faced the back of a brownstone, this little empty space in the middle of the block). He was naked, I’m sure I remember, definitely, and she must have been too, but maybe she was on the bed, out of sight. I remember seeing his backside, well probably, as he paraded back and forth – I wonder if he knew? – in front of the ten-year-olds who happened to be ogling, if in fact this is what actually happened. Because maybe all I remember is that there was a big loud dog in the yard, or that no one had ever actually seen anyone in that brownstone, or that we liked to make up stories, and that this one seemed especially worth retelling.
“The city’s just so big”, he said suddenly, and I laughed, thinking how small it’s always seemed to me. But still we sat down together, and we talked about theater, and hummus, and the future, and “an endemic sense of not belonging”. And then we hugged, and said our until next times, which I think will be probably in a week or so, at the cathedral just around the corner.
Another day, Leo, when there’s more time, I’ll sit down with Ermine Lady and ask her, as you asked me, “why” that other Leo “angled her torso to her right, when she wants to look left.” In the meantime, I’ll just appreciate your letters, and their drafts, and I hope you know that even if you didn’t like it much, the “hundred-handed applause” after your lecture was beautiful, just beautiful.
It’s time to put you away, tattoo, the way a friend of mine advised me once. “Find something you like”, he said, “something that means something personal, and that you like the look of, and then put it in a drawer for a while.”
Don’t look at it, he said. Don’t think about it, don’t check up on it, don’t anything to it. “If it’s something you want on your body forever, you’ll still like it when you find it again. Later.” So goodbye, tattoo. Goodbye black lines,
goodbye secret marks. Someday, I’ll open up my desk drawer, or a folder on my computer, or wherever it is I’ve locked you away, and see you again. Hopefully, I’ll find that we haven’t changed much at all. Or maybe— we’ll both have, we’ll have changed and changed and changed.
You have to get back on the horse. Somehow, and I don’t know how this kind of thing happens, we started to lionize horseback-not-getting-on: these casual, a priori assertions of inevitable failure, which is nothing more than a gauze draped over your own pulsing terror. Every creative act is open war against The Way It Is.
What you are saying when you make something is that the universe is not sufficient, and what it really needs is more you. And it does, actually; it does. Go look outside. You can’t tell me that we are done making the world.
Let’s free write. Let’s negotiate a new mortgage. Let’s learn new words and use them in old sentences. Let’s join a circus, or a caravan, let’s ride in palanquins and use esoteric names for types of horses, like destrier or courser. Let’s make our lives more like the young-adult fiction we read. Let’s jump. Let’s learn all about how hospitals operate from TV shows. Let’s hug it out. Let’s scream until our throats are raw. Let’s stay up all night, trying to improve our night-vision. Let’s co-author a series of novels. Let’s donate to charity. Let’s learn to drive so we can go much too fast, let’s outrun the cops and cross the border and never look back.
It’s been one of those days where there hasn’t been time for anything, not for reading, or eating healthy, or replying to all those emails, one of those three-borough days, constant subway sounds, shutter and clack, shutter and clack, no respite, but, somehow, great reward.
I hope some day to be as facile with the florid speech and written patterns of that great iambic hero, famous for his fluent tongue and greater wit. Until that day arrives I’ll muddle on, among the lesser men who hope one day to be poets.
Every night, aglow with my laptop, I make an indelible mark on my anonymity. I careen and skim and shudder through the invisible web Gaiman named, and prove that I exist, marginally, electronically, byte by accruing byte. I wonder if there was ever a time I could have signed some kind of DNT, a Do Not Trace, some legal document that would have headed off my existence at the pass. Condemned me to a life of names, not numbers, of not telling the world that I’m interested in this type of clothing, or that type of porn. I would have been forced to flex, and swell, and breathe. To make things with my hands. No one would know that I bought a pair of grey sneakers, or an amber ring, or DVD set, unless I told them. I would open my window and scream: Here. I’m here.
I wrote another poem once about The Great Wave off Kanagawa, you know the one. Great big wave on the left, tiny boats of fishermen on the right, often forgotten, in shadow, nameless and huddled. The poem was about the men and how brave they were, brave for facing the wave, brave for sitting for the artist.
Looking back on it now, the poem should have been about the wave, how terrible and still it is, how silent, how perfectly willing it is to hold itself back, eternally, it’s salty fingers licking out, ready to swallow mountains, forever.
The word is “evening” for a reason. The soft and steady bluescale gradient of afternoon slipping into dusk, it’s a decline, a leveling out, it’s an effortless kind of pain, like a quiet admission of guilt, or a goodbye, like the way you left, and have continued to leave, and all of a sudden the sky is an ocean, deep, and dark, and empty.
It was a “radical act of empathy,” yes, just as the new Haggadah said, the four of us sitting around and talking about theater and drinking the Kosher wine. But it was also a radical act of memory, of telling old stories and not flinching from the truth. And it was a radical act of loss, of setting down an extra glass for Leo, who died one year ago, and, as always, it was a radical act of faith when I opened the door for Elijah and felt him press through me, as I have every year, a quiet moment of knowing that there was something bigger than myself, someone who winked as he spirited by me and took just the smallest sip of wine.
walking in new york is
music, it’s living, it’s jazz,
it’s a muted trumpet singing
like in old documentaries
and black-and-white pictures.
or sometimes it’s drums,
subway clatter and pitch,
talking rhythms, urban
slaps of concrete and steel.
the best is the park,
there’s vocals and guitar,
it’s folk rock, it’s everyone
with their headphones on,
Last night, on the subway, I watched a pair of girls with matching books on their laps. One was reading to the other, in a voice that betrayed a remarkable unfamiliarity with the written word. It was that sing-song-y, faltering, unfocused cadence of an illiterate voice. A voice that has no interest in reading a long passage, in a longer essay, in an thick and impenetrable appendix, about “the great trials, and greater rewards, of re-reading.” A voice that rolls its eyes at English class.
And no wonder, I thought. Look at what these girls have been assigned to read. Their teacher has given them copies of Literature: A Portable Anthology, now in its second edition, a soft-cover brick of all the authors these poor girls have grown up hating.
Last month, I succeeded in my rarely-mentioned but oft-thought-on goal of posting more times per month than there are days in said month. I’m not sure exactly what about this goal appealed to me - maybe just the idea that it means I found some strange form of consistency in my blogging (if posting strange links, Instagram photos, and long posts about Pokemon is what passes today for “consistency”).
So it’s National Poetry Month, and I’m gonna try to get a post up every day that has some poetry of mine in it. I hereby give myself the freedom to be flippant and/or lazy and/or interesting, on any given day, howsoever the mood takes me. There are no ground-rules for form and style. Edits and re-writes count as new poems. Writing multiple times in one day and posting on separate days is frowned upon, but permissible. The important thing is that I write every day. Hopefully - like with work-out buddies, or so I’m told - having to post my material will keep me honest.
And now that I’ve made this announcement, it’s REAL and I CAN’T NOT DO IT. Right?