New York is delicious on New Year’s Day. Detritus lingers greeting us on the street, remnants of the night. The grey clouds invite us out into something new. The tired, the hungover, the party people find themselves careening toward Coney Island for the annual plunge, a ritual for the seasons like no other. We’re still alive and ready to feel, to be, to live. I adore the subway ride to the beach, looking out the window at the city light, the graffiti along the walls, my old city still here, the views of Manhattan at Smith and Ninth. You still feel the energy. To our right two guys sleep, a woman in front of us sits quietly; to our left, another shadow dances, by herself, all the way from Smith and 9th to Mermaid Ave, making her own party. A lesson for us all, the official events are canceled but anyone can start a street party.
My friend Ed Wolf, a pioneer in AIDS caregiving, posted a prophetic note:
“This quote was written in my notebook when I worked on the AIDS Unit: “You can’t travel far with an anchor.” As the wheel turns and 2020 slips behind us I’m wondering how to best proceed into 2021. I can’t bring all of my baggage with me. The constant Covid concerns and disbelief. The disgust of all things Trump. The hopelessness of climate change. The heartbreak of homelessness all around us. Injustice. Addiction. Too much to carry and still move forward. I don’t have any answers and worrying about it will create even more weight. But I’m thinking about it. A lot. What to leave behind.”
Looking at this, I think of all the things I want to leave behind.
Sometimes it's better to travel light, Henry Rollins said at a spoken word event at my college years ago. I think he's right.
I can still see him there.
We are all exhaling from a wild four years, nine of the hardest months of our lives. I know it's not over. The virus and the economic aftershocks remain. But Ed is right. It feels good to let go of all the weight, the hate, the Trump crazy narcissism, the xenophobia, the masks are politics, the toxic immigration battles, the war on the poor. It is good to breathe, to feel, to be, to swim, to dance with everyone on the boardwalk
We walk off the train, out past Nathans. There’s a homeless encampment in front of Rudy’s. Others are dancing or just getting out of the water. Some are drinking. Everyone is there. Ravi from New Sanctuary, Jaques from the Yes Men, Virginia, from Rise and Resist, Brian , from the Church Ladies, Monica from everywhere leaping out into the abyss
The teenager an I run to the water.
Watching and snapping shots, Caroline has epipen, just in case anyone goes into anaphylactic shock.
That wasn’t necessary.
It was all ok.
Off we strip to our bathing suits, running out to the water.
Crisp, the ocean greets us, holding us, warming and chilling, jolting, waking, cleansing.
We swim a bit.
I high five a couple of other intrepid swimmers.
Je t’aime, I greet everyone on the way back.
Wave after wave of swimmers join us.
Afterward, Virginia and Brian and I talk about what life after Trump might look like, getting back to fighting for something, as opposed to always being on defense.
Birds fly along the boardwalk.
The suns is peaking out.
We get a spot outside at Volna in Brighton Beach.
Jaques is getting dressed at the other table.
Karina and I talk about moving away from individual interests to something larger, to looking out for us all. Once again, a virus has taught us that individual interest only takes on so far.
Making our way back, we run into Ravi, talking about the days three years ago when ICE went after him.
Glad he’s back.
Jean is still gone, still in exile in Haiti.
Back home with a fire, I pick up novel I found on the street and laugh. And then move back to my other, alternating between a Confederacy of Dunces and Sentimental Education, the absurd dancing with the tragic, the abundant and the yearning, the hoping and the despairing. Rejected in his lifetime, the writer, Kennedy Toole, exited before the book found a publisher, leaving the manuscript behind, for us to find a chuckle to. Flaubert saw a revolution with all its joys and violence and possibilities and let downs. Like a splash of cold water on New Years Day, for a second he felt a part of it all, completely exuberant:
“Great clouds of smoke were pouring out of the chimneys of the palace… The sound of bells in the distance.... Everywhere, to right and left, the victors were letting off their firearms. Fredderic, for all that he was no fighting man, felt his Gallic blood stirring. The ardor of the crowds had infected him. He greedily breathed in the stormy air, full of the smell of gunpowder; and at the same time he trembled with the consciousness of a vast love, a sublime, all embracing tenderness, as if the heart of fall mankind were beating in his breast.”
The abundant openings are there for all to see, for Flaubert to show us.
Almost two centuries later, the pestilence lurked.
As the year was finishing, © Patricia G. Horan was departing, peeling off the shame.
Elizabeth Sabo provides the news:
“….After testing positive with COVID one week ago, Patricia Horan, the poet, has passed away.
Below is her final poem, written with insistence and ferocity via text from her hospital bed according to her friend Elizabeth Sabo.
Notes on a Stay in a Hospital Quarantine Cell
© Patricia G. Horan
December 27, 2020
“I swallow my pride and it tastes like honey and salt.
The air has embraced my private body and has approved, and it quietly rejoices in its revelations and the liberation of its childlike spills and neediness. How I reach to love it suddenly, this stranger I’ve kept in a fifties New Jersey suitcase, only removing it for one afternoon on a nude fire island beach.
Now it is truly liberated in a small windowless quarantine room in North Carolina.
The machines behind me beep, shining little Christmas trees, watching my pulses, systems, and disturbances like grandmothers, occasionally clucking, unfashionably faithful through the night. I am pinned head to toe to a proud family of counters, weighers, and witnesses. This little womb and its divine protocols.
Shame is peeled from the human body when the body is wet with sweet tears and shocking love. It has suckers like snails and they make marks. The shameless body houses the soul proudly instead of shrouding it.
My mother tells me I began to walk on my first birthday. Today I took steps alone from the commode to the bed, to the applause of my caregiver. Eighty years has incensed up in a laughing swirl of smudge smoke. A laughing swirl of smudge smoke and ageless birthday courage.
Echoing a hated preachment, I see that my life is just where it belongs, that mistakes are potholes filled in with diamonds.
If this dream goes away in the glare and blare of rough reality I will lovingly remember it the way I recall my dying mother squeezing my hand that is now identical to hers. My tenderness spills over in tears of recognition and reconciliation.
Message from a Quarantine Room.
Little womb of a room”
© Patricia G. Horan
Via Diana Kane English
“mistakes are potholes filled in with diamonds.”
Sitting to finish this first blog of the year, Donna is preaching via zoom at Judson, interpreting our time, opening up a space for narratives that open, move, meander, remind us and take us on a journey.
This a place where we see ourselves, let go, see simple beauty, without fretting, or carrying the without the weight of the old.
Isn’t it wonderful that no one has a map, says Donna, paraphrasing one of her favorite authors.
“Storms make trees take deeper roots.” ~ says Dolly Parton, on the bulletin.
“I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”
We pray for the dead and hope for the sick.
We’ll make our way in the new. Greeting the seagulls and the beach, the homeless at Rudy’s and the shadow dancers on the train, the rejected and despairing, the hopefully and anxious. The year begins in the ocean, taking us to Brighton Beach, back on the train, through Red Hook, the Ice Box, via Paris, through a Patricia’s majestic mistakes and departure, along with a confederacy of dunces in New Orleans, back to Brooklyn, NY, where “we’ll take a cup of kindness” for the new year, mistakes and all.