Wednesday, December 8, 2021

The City is Destroying Itself, on Leaves of Grass, Losing East River Park, and Reading Walt with LA, Elissa and Virginia… and Tim #saveeastriverpark #savethetrees


"New Yorks failure can be traced to many sources: the apathy and venaity of politicians, the cold unconcern of builders, the remoteness and indifference of businesses, and financial leaders," wrote Richard Whalen in 1964.

Last week, the Gowanus Rezone happened, despite enormous opposition.
All year, we fought to defend East River Park, being destroyed as I write this. Pictures of secret places, alley ways, and arts in the Gowanus, as well as a COVID plea for East River Park. 

Two Children Are Threatened by a Nightingale Max Ernst

From Walt's old house to East River Park in the morning.

Each December it hits; World AIDS Day reminds me. 

The nycaidsmemorial posted:

“Words Of Remembrance: New Yorkers Living with HIV Read from the Work of Those We've Lost to AIDS” is a reading curated by Tim Murphy (@timmurphynycwriter) and featuring 10 New Yorkers living with #HIV reading the words of poets and others lost to the epidemic. This event is being held to observe World AIDS Day and the first anniversary of the public dedication of the #nycaidsmemorial. Taking place at 5 PM on Wednesday, December 1 at the New York City AIDS Memorial on Greenwich Ave. and West 12th Street, this event is free and public. Visit the link in our bio for more information!

Finishing trauma informed practice, I rushed to join the readings.

The sun going down, I crossed Greenwich Street, past St Vincent’s where Sylvia died.

Arriving, my friend Ed Barron was reading from Paul Montette, a writer who died in 1995. Diagnosed with HIV in 1986, Ed is one of the kindest, funniest of heroes.  We were arrested in DC together, drinking beer afterward, joking about our mutual paramilitary, prison sex fantasies, laughing as much as we could. Reading it aloud, talking about those early days, the hospitalizations, Paul Monette’s words a took me back to a place from a long long time ago, all those lost friends, candlelight in the darkness, aids marches through time, from San Francisco to Christopher Street, back into the plague years. 

I guess we’re in another one now?

Lillibeth Gonzalez, diagnosed with HIV in 1992, read right before Ed.  In English and Spanish, she shared the words of  Reinaldo Arenas, a Cuban writer who died in 1990.  I adore Arenas’ writing.  His words reminders about what happened to the queers, the outsiders in the Cuban Revolution, life ever moving, between jail and the water, the beaches and boys, ever writing, amidst the wonder of it all, in the library, in solitary confinement.  Fleeing persecution, finally migrating from Havana to New York in 1979, he arrived with HIV just around the corner, ever in motion. By 1990, he took his own life, already  free. 

Lillibeth read about his ashes washing in the water, ever in motion, ever a part of the tide, a part of forever.  Standing in the cold with my teenager and comrades, Jay and Jackie and Ed, I thought about his premature departure, felt it, reminding me of Walt’s words, that seemed to find animation in Arenas’ poetry, that seemed to paraphrase Brooklyn’s bard. If he’d arrived a century prior, he might have met Walt cruising on the Brooklyn piers, along with the other sailors. 

By the end of the week, LAK wanted to meet at a Mexican restaurant by Walt Whitman’s old place at 99 Ryerson Street, in Fort Greene.

It was where he  wrote the greatest poem we have,  a Brooklyn poem about looking  at tides, ebbing in and out, the metaphysical connections between bodies and spirits. 

On we chat about our moment, looking at the water, the paths we’ve taken, the ferry Walt once took from here, to Manhatta and back, the poems I read in the park. 

Walt really knew.

And so on, LAK read from the Leaves of Grass:

“All goes onward and outward, 

Nothing collapses. 

All to die is different from what anyone supposed.”

“I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey of the stars…”

"I'm interested in the artists who went mad" noted LAK, referring to Yayoi Kusama.

“Two Children Are Threatened by a Nightingale” struck a chord.  

Sometimes it really is a dreamworld, too absurd to look at head on. 

History is hard to digest. So are the nightmares. 

Pandemics are forgotten.

Amnesia is always there. 

We remember the war, but forget the flu, says LAK.

Dada and Surrealism grew out of that. 

We fought the same permawar in 2003. 

Traumas follow.

More wars, more wounds. 

LA reads the first lines of leaves of grass:

“I stuck up for a new world. 

Eternal progress

THe cosmos…”

Sometimes I wonder about this progress, especially living here, watching the towers rise, while the green spaces disappear, separating us, connecting us with the cosmos.

Looking at the city, you see the fragility, says LAK. 

Ken Schles drops by. 

And we talk about the city destroying itself, pipelines etc.

We talk about the Fort Greene Park that Whitman fought for, that he knew needed to be built, park fights eternal, we’re been at for decades now. Ken mentions the fight against the Cross Midtown Expressway that Moses wanted, the destruction of the old Penn Station, the fight against pollution, for clean air, the ways the New York Times works as a cheerleader for real estate, and the mind crushing banality of a lot of modern architecture.

On his way home, he texts about the 1964 copy of Fortune Magazine he found on the street that seemed to paraphrase our conversation. 

Openings and closings, invisible cities lure. 

And sometimes they are lost  in the amnesia.

Poets help us remember.

Eileen organized poetry readings to defend the park, all fall long.

I read Walt often, thinking about Crossing Brooklyn Ferry. 

Saturday, the Voice of the Gowanus crew toast the battles lost and won at unhappy hour, in the Lavendar Lake that will soon disappear.

At Judson, Valerie preaches about an everlasting father, opening something for us, without judgement. 

I can’t help but think about Walt. 

After service, Tim and Mel welcome me down the street.

We read about the body electric. 

More Walt, more new beginnings, even in Advent.

“That was the beginning.  It isn’t over yet,” said the review of Leaves of Grass. “The controversy  yet rises and subsides.”

The poetry brings a smile, even as he fights ALS, and moving becomes hard.

Last night of Hanukkah.

Al lights the last candles upstate. 

And I get a message to be at East River Park early the next morning. 

The bulldozers are coming. 

Mark Hannay posts a note after a bike ride:


“it was a sad sunset bike ride through the southern section of our beloved #EastRiverPark this evening for what is likely the last time.  tomorrow morning, the city is closing it off and will begin a multi-year process of literally destroying the park in order to save it (so they claim.)  shades of vietnam-era orwellian double-speak, if you ask me.

i am so angry at #BillDeBlasio and local city councilmembers #MargaretChin and #CarlinaRivera over it.  the first two will be gone by the end of the month, so at least there’s that.  However, the damage will be permanent, and so totally unnecessary when there are better alternatives that would preserve the park AND protect this part of the city from (very rare) floods too.  but the arrogant, we-know-better, know-it-all pols rejected them despite pleas from the community and a previously-agreed upon plan.

the park is a lovely WPA era oasis that runs from 14th st. all the way down jackson st.  it has been an absolute haven for us neighborhood residents during this pandemic (which is far from over yet.)  the playgrounds and game fields and running track have been well used by people, not to mention the beautiful promenade that was just rebuilt a back in the 2000s.

frequent walks and bike rides have kept me sane for nearly two years now, the sense of light and open space and flowing water.  i will miss the southern view at sunset looking down toward the harbor and the statue of liberty in the distance.  it’s all so tragic.”

Elissa Jiji posts a note:

“If Hanukkah is, in part, a story about maintaining hope when the odds are long, gathering with friends and neighbors to stop a destructive, inadequate "flood control" plan seems fitting for the season.

The best present would be preserving East River Park *and* true flood protection. Some gifts ya gotta work for.”

At 715 AM, I meet Elissa and Virginia and Todd and the other park defenders. 

The fight for the park extends in countless directions. 

The police arrive at the Amphitheater, doing their scouting. 

Construction trucks are everywhere. 

Aresh says hi.

Its hard not to think about Esperanza all those years ago. 

LAK was there.  

More people seemed to arrive for that fight.


Fences are going up. 

The drilling is beginning. 

The trees are watching.

They don’t seem to be trembling.

But they are next. 

And everyone knows it.

These are our elders, says Aresh, feel the nature in them that is in you.

Kathyn Freed says:

“You don't destroy something to save it.

How come no officials are out fighting for us?”

People from all over the tri state area are coming out...More concrete is not the solution, says a young woman who came from New Jersey. The community created a plan to stave off climate change. This park is special. 

Cutting down trees reminds me of the old war is peace logic. We need a place to breathe. 

Standing watching the cops line up with their plastic handcuffs, another teenager tells me he came here every day during the pandemic.  It was his safe place.  His place to hold it all together. 

Councilman elect, Chris Marte  says this was a sanctuary when he was growing up. New York is a laughingstock. The whole world is watching us destroy this park because the city doesn't want to lose one lane of traffic. We can do better. Its like the revenge of Robert Moses. 

No one knows why the city rejected the community plan to put the flood wall behind the FDR and save the treesrees are flood protection. We know there is a way to support the trees and protect from floods. 


Whose Park?  Our park,  we chant.

This is happening everywhere, community spaces disappearing, while green spaces paved over.

More gardens, more trees, New York City has got to breathe.

We are on the right side of history. No false dichotomies, says another speaker. Of course we need climate resiliency and a park. We are the city. We are nature. It's in us,in the trees. Feel the interconnection.

The destruction has begun. Get down here...I write, posting a note. 

It's our back yard. Our community... our trees. 

This was where our kids learned to ride, says Allie, visibly shaken.

People are devastated.


Power to the people, says Marilyn. Shame on the NY Times for doing so little to highlight the loss of this vital community resource.  

Police warn us that we will be arrested if we keep on blocking the jackhammers. 

Virginia and company hold the line. 

You have to stop, says Virginia, before they arrest her, attempting to block the machines. 

Arrests begin for those disrupting the construction. 

The trees are our elders says Aresh. 

“The trees witness everything,” says Victoria Chang. 


In the jail, Virginia notes blood on the walls. 


One-Act Play in the "Special Cells," Pitt St., 7th Precinct

Arresting Officer Steve: You let me know if you need anything

Me: OK.... Uh, Steve?

AOS: Yeah

Me: Is that blood on the wall?

AOS: Nah

Me: It's too pink, right? So it's what, then, paint?

AOS: Yeah, paint.

[I was arrested blocking destruction of East River Park. Out in about an hour and a half, enough time to conclude that it was indeed blood and ponder all the people for whom jail isn't part of a protest ritual, but a horrifying derailment of their lives.

Not to diminish the loss of the park, which is horrible too.

I was charged with trespassing and go to court in a few weeks. I snuck the pic while I was relacing my boots.]”


The city is destroying itself. 

It's nothing new. 


The activists have gotten a TRO.

But the destruction continues.

Its up to us.

Walt's old place on Ryerson Street. 

Ed reading on World AIDS Day. 


The TRO came through.   But workers at the park don't seem to know that. Thanks to the activists for being there. Activists had to jump the fence and call the police to get the construction team to stop the work. We are here every day from 7 to 3. Come on down to East River Park, north of the Houston street entrance.

Signs of the times, trees marked to be cut down. Park closed. Can the city DC o better? Yes they can. If the park is too expensive to maintain, up the parks budget. Go back to the community plan.

No comments:

Post a Comment