Monday, April 29, 2013

Moving between Spoke N Words, Gardens and Friends

The weekend was consumed with plans to move out of our home of a decade, relocating our stuff into a smaller pile of stuff in storage, and plans to hang with friends, eat, drink, share a few poems and continue upkeep on the vacant lot on S. 5th Street we've dubbed Nothing Yet Community Garden.  Keegan, Lopi, Times Up! volunteers and neighborhood members have been spearheading the guerrilla gardening effort.  "People tell me my lifestyle of being broke, risking arrest, scrounging for food, so I can help others, start gardens, educate, is not sustainable," he confesses. "I tell them their lifestyle is not sustainable."

I wondered if any of it was sustainable as we ate with friends and finalized plans for moving day, imaging the clash of bodies and boxes, navigating stairs and stress.  My Dad had a heart aneurysm during a similar move almost forty years prior.  Its lessons still linger in my mind.
But we slowly did it.  Moving most of our stuff out Saturday after packing boxes for days. That afternoon was hung out for a late afternoon lunch and nap, with the girls off at play dates.  We were actually enjoying moving day together.

When they returned, the girls did somersaults in the vacant living room.  Dodi had first entered that room in Caroline's stomach in December 2002.  Those ten years in one house are as long as I've lived anywhere.  We've protested wars and conventions, taken job interviews, licked our wounds after losing them, organized meetings, had dinner parties, watched parents drop by, and sat Shiva for others, welcomed new kids, friends, and jobs and watched wars recede, presidents elected, and storms rise, and celebrated birthdays through these windows.  But it feels good to move down the block, shake things up, and reach for the sky.

"If ups the word, then lets touch the sky," EE Cummings' words immediately jumped into my mind when I heard about JC's poetry ride, I knew I had to go to, even if we were moving.

I was delighted to hear about the Times Up! poetry ride Sunday.
Join us April 28th for a living interactive experiment of word, sound and movement. We will bike through NYC stopping at specific locations to read poems and create spontaneous interaction with art. Bring your own poems to read or your favorite poets'.
"So happy to hear that one of Nuyorican Poets founding padres, Jesus-Papoleto Melendez will be joining us Sunday," declared one of JC's posts. "Preparate for something special. Plus we'll be taking to ride to the Nothing Yet Community Garden. Whoop Whoop!!!
Here's a loose itinerary for Time's Up Poetry Ride where we read poems with associated themes. Special guests are being recruited. If you have an idea for a different stop please post it here.

Starting at 3 pm Washington Square Arch: We sound our barbaric yawp and burst forth in kinetic inspiration.

Weather Underground House: Verse subverse. Rage. Fire. 

Edna St. Vincent Millay's House: Wild love. Uninhibited lust. Kinky passion. Strange fruits.

Rawhide (RIP) Chelsea: Vaseline and Jockstraps

Allen Ginsberg Apartment: Sunflower Sutras - Perpetual Spring Frolic, Grass and Gardens 

Williamsburg Bridge: Sonic tone poems - sounds and movement, East River Ritual.

East River Bar (or other watering hole) Drunk poets society - more dancing and mayhem."

Sunday, I woke still tired but excited for the ride. I'd join Keegan, Lopi, Jeremy and Jennifer to transfer boxes from Bed Stuy to our garden in Williamsburg.  Iconic gardener Adam Purple greeted us on our way out.


Back in the garden the space was coming more and more alive.  We greeted volunteers and turned the wood boxes into composting crates.

Bill helped us access water for the plants.  And the garden was coming alive.

And others made plans to attend the land use committee of the community board on May 6th.

Cyclists from Times Up! greeted me on my ride over the Williamsburg bridge to Manhattan to join the poetry ride starting at three.

Riding up through the Lower East Side from the bridge, I saw JC and Brennan riding through the street with the sound bike in tow.
We met everyone else at Washington Square Park.  Most of the gang from the Queen ride was there.


Standing under the arch, JC welcomed everyone, reminding us of Marcel Duchamp's 1917 declaration of a "free and independent Republic of Washington Square" from this very spot. There, artists and poets climbed on the top of the arch, had tea and established on occupation of their very own. 

Nuyorican Poet Jesus-Papoleto Melendez followed standing on the makeshift poetry reading Lawrence Farlinghetti's Poetry as an Insurgent Art

Some of the rest of us followed, with words from EE Cumings, Allan Ginsberg, and others.
"There are no passengers on this spaceship planet earth," explained Nadette. "There are all the crew."
I read Howl as we left the park, screaming out stanza after stanza, riding, taking breaks for a stanza at each stop light, creating a clusterfuck of cars, bikes and bodies in the streets.
"We are not on drugs, we are the drugs" JC declared, riding us down 7th Ave, meandering through the meandering Greenwich Village Streets where we paid homage to Edna St Vincent Millay where at her former home on the corner of Bedford and Commerce.

I read from Howl and Judy read EE Cummings.
Photo by Fahad Javaid

Judy Ross read to read EE Cummings to the gang:

may i feel said he

she read:

may i feel said he
(i'll squeal said she
just once said he)
it's fun said she
(may i touch said he
how much said she
a lot said he)
why not said she
(let's go said he
not too far said she
what's too far said he
where you are said she)
may i stay said he
(which way said she
like this said he
if you kiss said she
may i move said he
is it love said she)
if you're willing said he
(but you're killing said she
but it's life said he
but your wife said she
now said he)
ow said she
(tiptop said he
don't stop said she
oh no said he)
go slow said she
(cccome? said he
ummm said she)
you're divine!said he
(you are Mine said she)

I read Rumi and Ginsberg.  Brennan played us an audio recording of Edna St. Vincent Millay reading, her voice reverberating from the sound bike through time. 

 photo by jc augustin

And Jesus-Papoleto Melendez stood declaring: "I will jump out of the window if that's what it takes to please you sexually," pausing, "only if you live in the basement."
He read  from Pedro Pietri's Telephone Booth 905 1/2
woke up this morning
feeling excellent,
picked up the telephone
dialed the number of
equal opportunity employer
to inform him I will not 
be in to 
work today.
"Are you feeling sick?"
the boss asked me
"No Sir," I replied:
"I am feeling too good
to report to work today.
If I feel sick 
I will come in early!"

Feeling the words vibrate through me, I thought about the poetry of the garden we were creating, the stories already growing from there.  I thought of the work of making a family and a garden grow, as well as the poems and bike rides which occupied my Sunday afternoons.  Still, the ideas of play and work sometimes appear contradictory. Walt Whitman once wrote, “I shall use the words America and democracy as convertible terms.” These two terms may sometimes be contradictory as well. But their source bears an important lesson about play and community building. Think of poetry–it could not be less important, or more meaningful. They help us reinvent ourselves and our stories over and over again.  Riding home water from the fire hydrant poured on the flowers in Nothing Yet, helping them grow, helping us all. 

reading poetry at diaz y flores. photo by jc augustin



  1. Hi Ben! Nice Post. Thanks for using my images(last 2). -John Speck, a Time's Up Volunteer.

  2. Nice!! I love reading the adventures of the Shepard Family & Company.

    1. I love hearing from babs... who makes it all work, supporting everyone.