New York City

Some Quickly Jotted Poems at a Few Brooklyn Coffee Shops

I’m only accepting anti-laurels now. Hardly.

 

Parade Coffee on Caton Ave, 9-30-17

 

A poet                  saying goodbye            to poetry
has to write           a poem                    and then there’s
the paperwork           Tomorrow                  thirty years
from now                when I’m gulping          the air
and the names           the simple things         floating around me
it won’t be            the neglect               reserved
for genius              My poems                  will be the chore
of the super            Parsed                    by the furnace
turned smoke           Is it defiance            To keep on
making them             say No                   Do I fail
because I want          to succeed                I should write
the smallest           Poem I can                Something
too small               to say No to              and revise it
with sharp              knife                     the oblivion
a shiny flake           of your lava              I’ve kept
all these years        a souvenir                in my sock drawer
spat up                 by the fire goddess       from Earth’s seam
syllable edge           shaved by half            and folded in two

submitted in triplicate

stamped Approved with the waxen seal of the Drunk Ambassador of Poetry

-they played the song from Portlandia.

 

 

Uptown Coffee, Seventh Ave, 10-12-17

 

Sweating in fancy clothes
from walking my kid to school
the hot coffee isn’t helping.
Tempted to pat myself dry
with the napkins. Don’t
look I’m repulsive and have
been for at least a decade.
It doesn’t matter. I’m
the only one that has to
endure this body. It looms
over no one. Nobody
has to pretend anything
to keep my feelings from
being hurt. Except for
myself in the mirror
when I shave. Squinting.
Maybe it was better at
the old place where there
wasn’t an outlet and
I felt my face until it
was smooth.

 

 

Steeplechase, Fort Hamilton Parkway 10-15

 

This is the closest
one and I’d write
here more often
but there are small
wooden signs
forbidding laptops
on all the best
tables. The other
notable feature
is that napkins
are distributed
from a roll and
cut to the exact
size you need.
I got a pecan
sticky bun and
had to go back
three times.
I started going
to coffee shops
in college.
Back then, I loved
the shop more than
the brew.
The attraction
was wasting time
with a book
in a place where
my friends might
by chance distract
me from myself.
I thought myself
a writer then
but all I did
was read.
Now I need
the coffee as much
as the shop.

– they played The Old Crow Medicine Show

 

Return to Uptown Coffee, 10-27

 

The chorus of the song
is Guilty as Charged.
Music like a dangly
ear ring, heavy
and shining.
I don’t hear enough
to know what she did.
Claimed love, squandered
love, rebuked love.
It’s just an edgy pop
song. No real cowardice
revealed. Nothing
unsettling, just that
the night is long
and everyone surrenders.

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Some Thoughts as the Year Comes to a Close…

Some thoughts as the year comes to a close….

 

To the owners of the closed sex shop on Sixth Avenue that I walk by everyday on the way to work: you may get more offers if you take down the “Sweet Sinsations” awning.

 

To the bear that used to reside in the Emerald Pub, good luck in your new music venue bar. Threadbare though you were, somehow, you seemed despair resistant.

 

To the margaritas of Cowgirl: I forgive you my trespass.

 

To the literary journals that have rejected my poetry over the last year: A simultaneous raspberry and a I guess you know what you are doing.

 

To the gumbo I’ll eat in Louisiana in a few weeks:  yum.

 

To my elbow: stop smarting.

 

To the pedestrian safety officers on Varick in front of the Holland tunnel: Your job sucks.  What matadors of the impossible!  I sincerely hope you all have good holidays.

 

To the everything bagel: keep on doing what you’re doing.

 

To the cart couple that make my bacon, egg and cheese on roll: I need a little warning before you go out of town and have a good holiday.

 

To Mike the Tiger: it could be worse. You could be on that Life of Pi boat.

 

To the future: I hope you don’t humiliate me too much.

Subway Diary, 2004-ish

These diary entries used to live on Jackie Cangro’s website, The Subway Chronicles. The idea of the site was to collect stories about the subway. It was mostly essays, but there was a small section of the site devoted to diary entries. That section was my favorite part, mostly because I was in it. The site still lives on sort of in the anthology of essays that Jackie edited with the same name, The Subway Chronicles.  It is a nice mix of famous and not so famous writers. You can still purchase the anthology here:

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/subway-chronicles-jacquelin-cangro/1100360198?ean=9781440627194&itm=1&usri=the+subway+chronicles

or here:

http://www.amazon.com/The-Subway-Chronicles-Scenes-Life/dp/B003UHU9WY/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1374346154&sr=8-1&keywords=the+subway+chronicles.

 

Subway Diary 2004-ish

Tuesday, Dec 2, Homebound C-A-F

Spring Street Station

There is some bit of indigestion, a minor rumbling in the system. The C train is too crowded for me to get on. Most New Yorkers would have gotten on but I’m finicky. I let another C and A pass by before I finally take an A that’s no more crowded than usual. Of course I haven’t escaped anything. Three stops later at Broadway Nassau, the platform is full of people, not finicky like me, who couldn’t physically push their way onto the last three trains. By this time I have made it to the relatively calm center of the train.

In general, people are courteous enough to move towards the center as the train fills up. However, tolerable personal space limits will only collapse so far. By the doors, it’s like a rugby scrum with people pushing into one another and reaching over each other for hand holds. It is the most open space but with few places to hold on.  As you travel towards the area between the two doors, the space narrows with seats along the sidewalls and poles in the center. Not faced with the open combat in front of the doors, people in the narrows will only move as close to the next person as what they personally consider sane. With each stop, they might, depending on their general feelings on humanity, move in a grudging inch or two just to show the poor bastards by the doors that they care. The half-heartedness of the gesture is perfectly obvious to the people by the doors. Only once, have I ever heard anyone protest the order of things. At Carroll St, a woman had had enough and addressed the whole car loudly in a voice that was a whisper below a shout: WILL THE PEOPLE IN THE MIDDLE PLEASE MOVE IN. Most of the people shrugged and a few moved in another inch.

Wednesday Morning- City Bound F

A homeless man has created a pocket of empty seats. Any experienced rider knows to approach these pockets very carefully. It passes the smell test, more or less, and he isn’t yelling at anyone yet. He has a tremendous beard, the kind only an academic or a transient can get away with, not long, but bushy and round like a bit of topiary. It makes the bit of scruff that I’ve been sporting as a guard against over domestication look like the weak effort of teenager pretending he’s old enough to buy beer. He’s pulling at it rhythmically, and each time, it springs back into shape.

There is a well-dressed man sitting in front of me wearing a yarmulke. He takes a box of Entenmanns’s pastries out of his leather bag.  It’s morning so I think it must be the mini muffins but it’s chocolate chip cookies for breakfast. One-two-three-four-five cookies for breakfast and the box goes back into his bag, ready for the next little emotional downturn that might be righted with a bit of sugar and chocolate. What measures have I taken? None.

My somewhat empty car suddenly becomes crowded at Carroll St. but I have a seat so I watch their plight with bemusement. Any human situation immediately stratifies into varying grades of have and have not. Have a good seat (me this morning), an okay seat, a seat wedged in between two large people not honoring the clearly denoted boundaries of the plastic butt grooves, have no seat at all but a grip on the center pole, a grip on the rails above the seats, one finger curled around the rail as you reach over a few belligerents, a desperate hand pancaked to the roof, and finally the lowest of low, no grip on anything at all and wondering if you fall whether they will help you up or trample you to death on their way off the train. If I let myself I could feel very superior having this seat. Obviously I was rewarded by my foresight in getting on the train at an earlier stop and moving towards the un-crowded center of the platform. Luck? Sure if you want to call luck a positive attitude and a willingness to seize the moment. Yes, it could be very tempting.

 

Thursday Morning Dec 2- City Bound- F

Someone across from me is writing in her journal that someone across from her is writing in his journal. What are the possibilities? An assignment from her psychiatrist? Seems sane. An editorial for the company newsletter? A eulogy for someone she lost touch with years ago? The pen is moving too fast for her to be a poetess. She’s practical enough to wear the jogging shoes on the commute and keep the leather pumps shoved under her desk. Essayist? Fiction writer?

The malevolent stranger watched her from across the car. After each glance he would write something in his notebook, making angry movements on the punctuation. Loretta thinks it’s obviously an assignment from his psychiatrist or some new-agey parole officer. She checks her skirt to make sure he can’t see too much.  He won’t stop looking at my feet. Sexual deviant, I bet. Whatever floats your boat, Mister. You just stay over there and I’ll stay over here.

Sunday 11:30 am-F.

On the weekend, you see more kids and old folks on the train. Monday through Friday, those hours before nine and after five, we are the party of hunters and every other hour, the whole village rides the train.

Monday Morning-Dec 6-City bound- F

I’m not paying attention to anything. My earphones are on (no music) and I’ve just read the sports page without retaining a single word, when a voice cuts through my disconnectedness. Deep, mellow, authoritative, a West Indies accent, I think it’s an announcement for a moment. But it’s preaching, less crazy and repetitive than usual for a subway preacher. I have no idea why but this morning it’s mildly pleasant as he rhythmically goes through a litany of sins that pass for fun on a Saturday night. Amen, the pills and the booze and the Ya-Ya-Ya partying never got me anywhere either. I take my earphones off to hear him a little better. Just when I think the Holy Ghost might have a shot, some one wants to argue. A woman I would have taken for mousy becomes the first person I have ever seen talk back to a subway preacher, “Not everyone believes what you believe. Some people don’t want to listen to this stuff.”  Ordinarily she would be my hero but this morning I’m torn. Fierce but reasonable atheist or passionate apostle? They argue a bit and finally he tells her that she doesn’t have to listen but that she could be quiet until it’s over. But she doesn’t want to be quiet. When she persists, he begins speaking in tongues at her. I don’t think I’ve heard that since moving north to the Blue State Capital. Of course, that wins the argument.

Dec. 9, Thursday Morning, F line

This bum is something out of Dante, a spirit tormented and goaded on to torment others.  He is making a vile music with his change cup. Instead of rattling it, he is slamming the coins against the inside of the cup by thrusting out his arm. He makes the sound three or four times in a row and each time it seems more insistent. Shuffling from one end of the car to the other, he is getting closer to me. His skin is burnt dark and he smells. Dirty gray hair is spilling out from under his hood and his white beard is tucked into the front of his pants.  He starts muttering at people as he goes by. At first I think it’s just nonsense syllables, a speaking in tongues for the Devil, but it resolves itself into Spanish as he gets closer. He pauses in the doorway at Jay Street and yells at us all for a moment before exiting.

Dec 20, Monday Morning, F line

The train smells like ketchup. Some bit of McDonald’s left behind from that O God the world is spinning, I’ve got to get something in my stomach, late night snack. Baby at home, I’ve almost forgot what that life was like. Don’t worry Wheaton’s got that beat.

Ps. I will not be licking any portion of the train.

In those two stops between Seventh Avenue and Carroll Street, that the F train is elevated, a little girl is standing, I’m not making this up, she is standing on her seat to get a view of the Statue of Liberty. Her father is telling her to sit down because it’s dangerous. I say let her stand. Let her stand.

Dec. 23, Wednesday Morning on the Platform at 15th

A guy is playing slide guitar, real muddy delta stuff, no singing, just strings bending and wailing. Now this is Christmas music, something a guy nailed to the cross over the weekend and back to work three days later would understand. His tip jar overfloweth. Even crusty old me throws in a quarter.

Jan 3

First secret new year’s resolution is blown. I’m late. Technically I won’t become late until somewhere under the East River.  I don’t like to think about being under water in this contraption.  As a general rule, I try to avoid places and situations where only a super hero can save me.

Feb 25, F train and the Chinese Curse Lady

I’ve seen her before so I’m not surprised. Most of us on the F have seen her before. We look around to find the new people to see their reactions. The only indication that you might have that she is a little crazy is that she wears dark glasses underground. Otherwise, she is a medium height middle-aged Chinese woman who is always impeccably groomed and dressed. Today she is wearing a striking blue wool coat. At first she’s quiet. She waits until someone offends her before she starts speaking. Her curses are usually aimed at talkers but sometimes there are other secret offenses known only to her and in rare cases, the entire car is cursed. Of course some jackass is rambling on as though the entire train cares about his life and for once someone is going to do something about it. She moves closer but not to close and begins to speak in a loud authoritative voice.  It never becomes a yell and she never loses her temper.

“Don’t make me go over there.”

“When you go to hell bring the people who pay you money to drink.

“15 million curses, 100 million curses”

“You are lucky we are almost there.”

“500 million curses.”

“I don’t care what you tell people. I don’t mind you call me all the Chinese names, all the Chinese names.”

“3 billion curses”

3/31 F-train

I earn the wrath of the Chinese Curse Lady.  She is about half a car away and I can’t see the people that she is cursing but I can see her in her Sun Glasses and Blue wool coat again.

“1 Curse is worth a million curses. Have fun in hell.”

“You think the Chinese name is funny so I have fun with you.

At this point she sees me writing in my notebook.

“Ten million curse for the person printing out the Chinese name.”

“No story and no Chinese name for him because he is on duty.”

“I am making a story for you to tell”

“It is okay to write stories but it is not okay to write down people’s name.”

“500 million curses for the person writing the Chinese name.”

She never moved closer to me, so I guess my offense was not nearly as grave as some others. Maybe she sensed a kindred spirit, someone else who would be handing out curses if he could only get away with it. I think she might have been right about me, about the stories anyway. I never could get the sense of play needed to make a story. I’m always perched at the edge of my seat with a pencil and notebook waiting for someone else to do something.

4-12 F-train, 15th St. Platform

Another Prophet, this one a disheveled white man in his fifties wearing a dirty tan trench coat.

“The Subway is not Disneyland”

“It’s not the Coney Island ride”

“You can’t pay $2.00 and ride all day.”

“Don’t do it. You’ll get in trouble. They’ll give you a citation.”

“The Subway is not Disneyland.”

“You can’t pay 2.00 and ride all day.”

“It’s a federal offense.”

4/14 F train

Commute to: There are a few empty seats and the people sitting next to them are doing their best to make them look unappealing. They are blowing themselves up like puffer fish, letting their bags and jackets hand over onto the seat. All of these yuppies trying to look like they’ve been to prison or just plain crazy. I sit right on the bit of jacket hanging over. He makes a great harrumph in pulling it back.

At York Street, he springs up and runs across the platform to the Ftrain going the opposite way. Did he forget that his house was on fire or that his wife loved another man? I check my wallet just to be safe.

Commute Home: In the trash between the tracks, a small bottle of gin, the kind they give you on airplanes, enough to get a rat drunk or kill half an idea.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas at LaGuardia

Flying to Louisiana for the Holidays: The car service comes once two hours early and again twenty minutes late. The driver is a small Japanese man in his fifties and gives a little bow and says that we are so kind when we don’t give him any attitude. The above line I wouldn’t allow in fiction, too stereotypical or maybe even racist but because it happened I’m leaving it in. As soon as the car was packed, he pardoned himself and ran down the block to the car service office for ten minutes. We seriously considered taking the car as the keys were dangling in the ignition. We spent the ten minutes imagining this road trip to Louisana in a Lincoln Town Car. He comes back, another slight bow, his right hand a fist and the left covering the fist. We are off, sort of. He doesn’t know where the BQE is. This is from a spot where I could throw a Frisbee and have it land on the Prospect Expressway. Another apology, he is new to the neighborhood.

Sky Cab’s: Always do the sky cabs. Always. Even if you are by yourself and you only have one suitcase to check. A good sky cab imparts 7-8 hours of good luck.

At LaGuardia, we start to get into a short line and look up to discover that that short line is the very tip of the serpent. We are in a good mood though and laugh at our foolishness. And walk, and walk, and walk until we find the end.  L is reading and A is creating teddy bears on the I-phone. It is the kind of crowd that fascinates me. Anyone could be in it, school mates, co-workers, neighbors, tourists. I’m scanning their faces looking for that one person I know whose very happening into that moment could make a better story of this long line. No luck and no belt either, so I keep having to pull my pants up. Trudge, trudge, pull pants up. Trudge, trudge…. The line is moving and the airport is pulling people out of line with earlier flight times. Young beautiful people keep showing up woefully late but the system is caring for them. The sensible guy up front is telling someone to calm down. You never know when you’ll need this. Everyone is decent and beautiful. I think I love mankind for a moment. You, dear reader, especially if you know me, are waiting for the grim note now, for me to describe something terrible with a pigeon and a mouse or some bit of meanness between people. But the niceness continues. I have to stand with arms spread out for three seconds while they scan my body and they are so nice about things that I really don’t mind that my most intimate parts, unexcited and skeptical as they are at that instant, probably even in some kind of defensive airport retraction mode, are broadcast halfway across the world like little Mikey TV from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Merry Christmas Y’all.

Here are two Christmas links:

Ken Wheaton guardian of the Christmas spirit describes a trip to Radio City Music Hall:

http://kenwheaton.wordpress.com/2012/11/28/radio-city-music-hall-is-full-of-jerks/

Robert Earl Keen Jr. sings my favorite Christmas song. Maybe one day this song will get the stop motion Christmas special treatment:

Scenes from the Summer Gone By

photo (3)It is cold and only getting colder. This time of year I think of the Rilke poem, Autumn Day:

Who has no house now, will never build one.
Whoever is alone now, will long remain so,
Will watch, read, write long letters
and will wander in the streets, here and there
restlessly, when the leaves blow. (S. Mitchell trans)

Here are excerpts from my journal from June to September.

Sunday Morning- Couldn’t write. All my poetry seems too awful for revision, even though it is all revision from the moment of the second breath and maybe even before that. This idea itself is a revision, a failed line from yesterday’s writing session.  Reading Adam Zagajewski, Without End- New and Selected Poems. Finished The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo last night.  My usual timing, a few years past the moment of cultural relevance. Going to play basketball at the Armory with the other gray athletes, an effort at friendship, the only kind that I was ever good at, good-naturedness in the struggle and a firm and binding goodbye. For the friends that stay and talk, I require liquor.

Wednesday- The Festival of Cultures- Dropped LB off and read a Richard Howard essay on Frank O’Hara. Made me regret not having his poems at the house. The kids came out and I go onto the big yellow bus holding LB’s hand, bound for the Festival of Cultures in Queens. A long drive. A few kids complained of car sickness and it only seemed a matter of luck that we made it without incident. Saw African dancing and Native American dancing with hoops. Hadn’t seen that kind of dance before. The hoops were used to make various shapes, mostly animals. Saw a fire breather- ho hum- who was also a contortionist- more interesting. Then two Chinese acrobats stacked themselves against a dry narrative of circus history. The man did a dance/tumble that also involved a juggling of hats. At one point he dropped a hat and the woman gave him a severe look of disdain. I don’t know if he saw it but he surely must have felt it.

On the way back, a little girl complained to me about her father. I know them both. She complained that he never spent any time with her. He never worked on art projects anymore. Oh sure, she said, the occasional board game but no art. I think I said something like, “Board games are pretty good.” The father I saw at the end of the day. He wasn’t on the field trip. He just happened to get on the subway with me. I didn’t tell him anything about the conversation. We talked about how they are selling their house because they need something bigger. Always then the inevitable question, “Are you leaving Brooklyn?” He says no but I wonder because I wonder about myself. When will I get wise and move somewhere dull and cheap?

Thursday- Brooklyn Queens Day and home with the kids. The low level anxiety of not being able to do anything about work is present. I leave it behind though. Something is wrong with my remote access to email. I never have the chance to fully tune in. We have a late breakfast at a diner and then we take a long walk through the park. There are white moths, the same kind everywhere and the children teach me something. Butterflies rest with their wings closed but Moths stay unfurled. We go over to the library and then the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. There are several women I try to ignore but I can’t help but look, their skirts made somewhat transparent in the bright sunlight. Flowers everywhere. Kids running ahead. We stop in the Cherry Orchard and we lay in a clump together reading. L laying perpendicular to me with her head resting on my ribs reading a mystery. A laying on top of me reading out loud from a non-fiction book on extreme Weather. On an idyllic day, she is reading about blackouts and the old Greek gods and tornadoes and tsunamis. The cherry blossoms are long gone. LB commented that it doesn’t seem the same place without them. So much of life happens after the tumult of blossoms. To the right, the summer roses are blooming and if you smell the air, you can smell a note of them moving around with the wind.

Friday- a half day went to the Poet’s House and sent a few poems out, looked at a few journals. Heart still not in it. Had a hamburger and a beer by the harbor of super yachts.

Saturday- Swimming at the Tony Dapolito Recreation Center on Carmine St. and then back to Battery Park City and the Poet’s House with the family. L wrote a strange poem about a pin cushion on one of the typewriters in the children’s room. An excerpt: The men all banished by their wives. I asked her about this line and she said that she got the idea from a Chinese folk tale that she heard at school, only it was the opposite, the wives were banished. She also showed me a few other lines and said I learned this from you: Take the example further. They don’t always seem to be listening but I guess they are. Snoopers of the future, she is eight. She knew she had written a very grown up sounding poem. She had that new poem feeling. She read it to me again and talked about what it meant and how she usually writes kid poems with kid subjects.

Monday morning, struggled to get the kids to school in a downpour. We stood in the door of a bodega and looked out at the rain and the sodden trudge the strangers were making of it. It grew heavier and lighter and heavier and lighter and then it was time. We had to go no matter what. AB was the only one in rain boots and after a rocky start in which she accused me of not telling her about the rain and a poor parenting moment where little empathy was shown, she started enjoying herself. I was not. I was wearing a poncho and carrying a trash bag of backpacks. I went home and changed out of my wet jeans and in the unlikeliest act of all, already late for work, I shaved.

Undated entry: I have been to this bar before of course.

The girls use an APP that makes custom teddy bears. You pick a bear and dress him. This is inexplicably fascinating.  AB made one on the bus to the ferry called Poet Bear. The bear had a top hat and black leather mask. It was wearing a tuxedo and holding a black laptop like mine. The pomp and menace of this bear seem about right for a poet.

Sunday- Laundry day and I’m alone. The clothes are spinning in the fire for another thirty five minutes. I usually work on poetry but I left the laptop at home. Not even any to read except for whatever is on the Nook. Still need to finish the Argonautica. In the early morning, an hour of writing. I finished 6 a.m. , a poem made of scraps from another poem with the odd subject of a pair of pastry tongs. Maybe a couple of new lines at the end saves it. In that first flush of enthusiasm, I sent it out to a journal named Moonshot. (Rejected with undoubtedly good judgement at a later date- ed. note)  Two games of basketball, shot better but it is painfully clear that I am old and maybe a little chubby. I keep waiting to get my legs under me again but maybe those legs only exist in my imagination. I should have said at the top of this entry that I am at the bar using their wifi while the clothes dry. I could barely afford what they term as a fizzy lifting drink, a High Life. This is the second time that I have seen that phrase today. The first time was on the red bikini’ed bottom of a woman at the Red Hook pool. Beck is on the stereo: Two turntables….

July- On vacation now, Saturday morning at the Flagler Bar and Grill. The bar switches to coffee in the morning at the Sheraton. The girl that served me had just been crying. I chose a frozen latte, too sweet, but still coffee. I received a rejection in my email and a suggestion for a few lines on another poem from a friend. It is so strange to hear pop music again. I don’t go the places in New York  that I would hear it.  So rapid. So compelling, so present, like a part of the climate here in Florida. Maybe they are right: eternal youth and sun and love-making and the guidance of Disc Jockeys.

September 30- The last day at Governor’s Island- I am here with my two children. They are on the swings, the swings with the best view in the world. They face the Statue of Liberty. Tall ships and yachts and the Staten Island Ferry and lower Manhattan and Ellis Island and New Jersey are all visible. They are taking turns pushing each other. I’m sitting at Little Eva’s about one hundred feet away eating a pulled pork sandwich and drinking sangria. Not a parent of the year moment but not so bad either. Some of the best times in life came when my parents said, “Go off and play.” There are not as many food options today, many of the food vendors have already shut down for the season. It isn’t the best day. There is a little chill in the air. Most of us are here because it is the last day. A moment when you realize the season is gone and there is no guarantee that any of us will ever come here again. Though we probably will. This place is perfect for the small amount of melancholy that I have today. Where would it have gone had I not come here?