Saturday, October 23, 2021

Everywhere is sacred but if it’s not there’s always someplace else



Before you drop everything for the romance of the Pacific Crest Trail. Here’s a book about dirt and stink and calloused skin, of shriveled, freeze-dried food, of snow in summer, and things held dear dropped over steep ravines.

Tornados ravage the flatlands, turning love to dust but catch yourself and hold on tight before getting smug about it because the undulating hills you live on has folks so crammed up against each other that sickness gets passed among you faster than a game of telephone. 

Earthquakes or floods, droughts or out in the middle of nowhere and nobody helps, or stuck in a city and still nobody helps. 

There’s so many ways of staying where you are but the choice to leave could be so good that everybody who knows you says you’re a different person in a good way, not that they didn’t like you before. Or it could be shoes that refuse to fit and a tail between your legs. The roots you lay down are a sad sack sorry life but just as easy it could be brick by brick reaching all the way to heaven. 

Before you even think of moving to central New York where an intricate meandering fixer upper enough for a family of twenty awaits you for so little coin it’s ridiculous not to do it, read every single one of Joyce Carol Oates volumes including the ones that don’t have that place etched in its pages and I’m sorry she’s so prolific. Before you pack up your stuff, either by yourself or with hired hands, I’m going to ask you to do the same, no matter where you’re going, the only reason why is because I said so. 

If you read what I did in the last six weeks then you’ve seen Harlem, Norway, Germany, the inside of a mobile home, rooms in a hospital, a pig farm, an undisclosed location, another place so specific I started skimming just to get to the end of it. This won’t help you at all, not in any business-like way you’re maybe asking for, and I sense I’m so far off track as to have gone the other way and start making sense, but in either case  it bears mentioning anyway.

From the archives:
Best Case Scenario
The sun it did rise again
To mend 

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Music Lover

Two thousand eighteen turned into two thousand nineteen and even a small slice of two thousand twenty. His average concert attendance was probably around once a week.

But averages tell an incomplete story. There were the nights when he zigzagged all over the city, attending three distinct and separate musical performances in one evening. More often than not he could go to as many as four intriguing gigs at any given time, but unable to clone himself, chose the most important, the cheapest, the newest, or the most convenient. If he could be physically present at more than one concert he would. 

Often he extended invitations to other music lovers but having a friend along was not a deal breaker. The truth is, he didn’t care much one way or the other. At least three quarters of the time he went alone. 

He’d go from home, comfortable in his own skin, clad in jeans and a tee shirt bought at another band’s merch table, taking a train to the upper west side or a crazy quilt of transportation to some out of the way neighborhood at the edge of nowhere. He liked stadium shows and tiny intimate venues.

He’d go straight from work, dressed for the office, the oldest guy in the room, people  assuming he was the manager or from the label. 

Eventually he organizes himself differently around after-work performances. He brings jeans, a signature tee shirt and casual socks to work. Concerts outside of the rarified classical or New Music genres can be sticky affairs. He does not relish the idea of spilt beer on his dress shoes or briefcase. In changing from one costume to another, he refuses to be placed in a box. He had the satisfaction of surprising colleagues, who only knew the business side of him.

If good music was playing or had been played, he belonged there. This belonging, giving himself a seat at the table allowed him to stride purposefully to the bar, the front of the stage or backstage to talk to the headliner, the drummer, the raw opening band singer, the accomplished cellist. Knowing that he loved a good musical hang, and would be late coming home I insisted on a cab. He complied.

Rock, folk, hip hop. classical, avant-garde. country. Music impossible to define. Blockbuster acts almost everyone liked, folks no one has heard of but him and half a dozen people. Nose bleed seats at Carnegie Hall. Standing for hours, eyes affixed on the tiny stage. Dancing wildly among strangers at a DJ set. One of the crowd at Madson Square Garden. Folded into a camp chair in leafy Prospect Park. Every one of them is his happy place. He’s not put off by the minuscule smattering of people at a brave, first concert. He is also perfectly fine being cheek by jowl in a  sweaty, overheated mess. 

More often than not a concert will have a second life. He likes nothing better than to tell other people what to listen to and why. He will work his words, his photographs, his intricate impressions into a story. He will remember every musician’s name and every note. He will notice what they do not notice themselves. 

He is not an epidemiologist or a fortune teller. He doesn’t know what a pandemic will be like until he is in one. One day he is squeezed around a table, listening to a vocalist with the voice of an angel, a windswept walk away from home. He thinks nothing of leaning in close to our friends, friends of friends, and friends’ new boyfriends to whisper between songs. The next instant he is locked up. 

Heroes go to work and ride the subway but everyone else is on lockdown. He’s cooped up, but so are the musicians. Everybody regroups. 

He shows up in virtual spaces and is not constrained by the rectangle to which he’s relegated. Singers, guitar players, people making their own instruments. He’s witness to their living rooms and basements, empty stages, the accidents happy and unhappy. 

He casts live concerts, enlarged and hyperreal to the TV. He plays vinyl, old and new on his turntable. He stands before his collection, and transfixed, pulls out a CD and stares. Music accompanies him while working remotely at our dining table, soft and low. His movements are curtailed by four walls but because of screens he travels to other continents, cultures, and time zones. He is witness to musicians reinventing themselves and they see him too.

He is rapt as though this were his chosen path, the only place to be. 

He must miss his former life. There was a time when he breathed the very same air as these musicians. Never once did he behave as though a Zoom concert was second fiddle. Not once did he complain. 

When his turn comes, he’s vaccinated. Afterwards he remains cautious and calmly watchful. The two year old child I lost to cancer was his too. He knows that life is fragile. He is not afforded denial. He makes do without it.

When the CDC says that vaccinated people can do whatever they like, he hangs back. When they change their stance, he is unsurprised. He has an inner compass which tells him what to do. It tells him to be careful.

Like a rare jewels or diamonds in the rough, some live music beckons him and he follows. He attends a concert at dusk in a historic, old cemetery. As the sun sets he walks about, masked and in like company, from one musical station to the next. For one precious evening those living mingle with the dead. 

He briefly digs in his heels about a gathering in a city park to honor a famous dead musician. It is the one time when his patience around the pandemic becomes frayed and britttle. As the guest list expands, then bloats to a number he deems unreasonable he reluctantly stays home. 

He attends an outdoor concert on a brand new island cooled by wind coming off of the water.

A favorite musician plays in an apple orchard and he shows up. Musicians can be afraid too. Musicians gather a community in the freshest, safest, most fruit and tree perfumed air. They do his bidding and he theirs. 

If the weather holds, if the pandemic doesn’t get any worse, if a natural disaster doesn’t threaten the shoreline, he is scheduled to go to a concert soon. He will be listening to live music. He will be listening while seated in a canoe. 

From the archives:
I suffered for their art
Take This Inspiration And Shove It
Lucky

Monday, September 6, 2021

Even The Locusts Wouldn’t


It works its way under my clothes
Traces my spine then spins around front 
Finding every tiny paper cut and scrape
Before pooling dark and syrupy
Where it always meets me
Where it likes to go 

Then, because it can
It finds me at home 
Coming in the back way, down the basement stairs
It works together with the termites who arrived first
It eats through the cellar floor then onto the foundation
Turning all that once stood firm to dust

Finishing there 
It moves to my pretty tended garden
A modest but colorful affair 
It takes its food and fodder 
Then fortified and ready 
It swings itself, catty corner, across the street
Smug and full of itself
To my wretched neighbor’s yard 

From the archives:
Shana Tova
Scissors
Mammalia

Sunday, August 8, 2021

Pegboard

First comes the intention.

The place on the wall that will eat up two junk drawers and a broken toolbox. The stuff squirreled away in closets that we keep forgetting we have. The desire to make our home neater, lovelier better. To make ourselves all of these things, too. 

The measuring tape binds us to what can and can never be. We have this much wall space and no more. A hardware store smelling of wood grain and eggshell paint. A slab of hope and ambition in the form of plywood with almost infinite numbers of  tiny holes. A choice not to paint our cut-to-order purchase. A pegboard allowed to be itself.

A level. A drill dusted off and loudly employed. Hardware in five different sizes lined up and waiting. Minimalism will soon become a jumble of sizes, colors, patinas, new, and well-used. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

One by one, we examine what used to live in the dark. Most things go up easily. Like with like, clustered together in more or less sensical fashion. 

One item remains. It won’t hang from a neat loop, it won’t balance between two hooks. It’s too big, unweildly, irregular. It’s not useful. It doesn’t match the array on the pegboard, nor does it belong with anything else. We’d throw it away, but neither one of us can bring ourselves to do it. The reasons are too numerous and complicated to go into now.

Alone on a shelf, unhoused, singleton.
Trash or jewel, not everything fits. 

From the archives:
Five Minutes
Picture Edit
The very second you lost me

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

The pass through


This is no labored, sweaty job.
Myself apprenticed, grasping at straws.
Wearing out my best mind.
Working too hard, but never hard enough. 

Instead, I’m handed a gift. 
Free and clear. Exacting, portioned right.
Brilliance so bold, who wouldn’t want to bottle it? 
Prayers for next time made futile and damned.
This can’t be summoned or conjured up. 

There’s no newly paved road, no tarry path to the horizon.
And even if there were, nobody’s lined up and clapping at the end.
Lifted high, without effort, athlete-like from there to here.
I’m alone. By myself and incandescent. 


From the archives:
Accelerant 
Take This Inspiration And Shove It
You are not okay.


Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Be exacting. Measure. Make that second nature.

Ride the subway from Upper Manhattan to Brooklyn in the morning, then over to Queens in the afternoon. Rush to class on the Upper West Side. Head on home. Board the Metro North to Westchester the next day, ride share to my destination, then reverse the whole thing come evening. Cut quite a figure across the tri-state area for the rest of the week.

Assume that my feet take the brunt of it, but it’s not just them doing the heavy lifting. The bus doesn’t pay any mind to one more. Keep getting on. 

Have shaky standards. Visit with this one and that, combine folks randomly. Never ask who pleases or fills my cup. Wear myself out with volumes of everybody and in-person, no less. 

Seal myself off. Listen to science. Embellish it.

Adapt seamlessly. Surprise myself. Don’t burden the doctors and nurses. Do these things for a long time.

Watch as helpers come with provisions that will one day, at a time and place of my choosing, be my slow ticket out of here. 

Let almost everybody else go first. No destination is benign. 

Make it simple. Say yes to yes places. Maybe means no. 

Never forget what happened while locked up. Eyes that crinkled around the edges, perfectly matching the smile inside the rectangle. Those who asked for help. Those who made old timey phone calls or wrote generous, multisyllabic words in sentences with punctuation. Those who came to find me. Those who left me where I was.

Let the world work harder before getting up from the ground to meet it halfway. Plant the seedlings but when something is dead on the vine, go ahead and compost it. Better yet, put in in the landfill. There’s a time for haste. 

When leaves dazzle in twelve gradients of green. When the answer is either gunshots or fireworks. Garbage strewn about, flies and dank. Fine fresh air with a hint of lilac. A perfectly calibrated air conditioner. 

Have one rule for people. Make ambivalence I can taste and smell a hard no. 

Peripheral vision is a privilege. Use it. Listen to the shift in color. Hope made it all a mystery before. It never was. People tell me what I need to know. 

Whatever it is. Whoever. Allow it to speak. Then rise up and make it mutual. 

From the archives:
Before, now, then wide open
Rending
The sun it did rise again

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Hospitality



There’s a hierarchy of vessels in every kitchen. I am not even eyeing the huge soup pots or mixing bowls. That would be selfish.

The pitchers are what I have in mind. They’re lined up, pretty and gleaming on your shelves. But the ladle sticking out of the jug would be just fine. 

All of this discussion of containers is because you’ve concocted something I want. 

What I ask for and what I get are two different things. You come over with an offering balanced in a measuring spoon. It’s hard to imagine a smaller pittance.

I’m allotted a tablespoon of something precious and there are a dozen mason jars holding the rest. You earmark those for yourself and other people. 

I sip and swallow what I am given. I expect a heady sweetness that leaves me bereft and wanting more. What I taste is unbearable bitterness. The honey you added at the end does not disguise what this is or who you are. The sudden clarity burns my throat. I don’t even say thank you. 

If you notice my departure you don’t let on. 

Everything I really need is within my own four walls. I develop tunnel vision and try that on for size. It suits me. I grow extra arms and legs.

I make a lot of something out of nothing. Everything’s arranged in the pantry and empty sections of the cupboards. What can’t be tucked away there graces the countertops and table. 

I’ve built the land of plenty with these sensible hands. A full larder makes zero sense if I never eat anything. I partake with no thought of scarcity. Hoarders be damned, there’s no problem with sharing either. 

With all of that said, with eyes wide open and gratitude coursing through my veins, I still want shallow bowls as big around as dinner plates. 

From the archives:
Tweak
I suffered for their art
Hydration