Each spring, the world reminds me.
Around Ash Wednesday, charcoal on the foreheads of passers by, I start thinking of poems, TS Elliot, ashes to ashes, The Wasteland, the women who come and go like Michaelangelo, March, not quite the cruelest of months, but we’re getting there.
The flowers start to make their way from the ground.
We plan a day, usually at El Jardin Paraiso, on 4th between C and D to read poems together.
And I start to wonder. I think of the poems I am going to read with my friends. Should they be the originals or those of the gods?
Countless poetry events in the garden through the years and I never know what to read.
I start to pull out my Rumi, looking through my poetry shelf, for the right poem, to capture the sentiment, something profound but bountiful.
Last year Brennan read Peaches’ fucking the pain away and make us laugh.
And JC read Pietro Pietri telephone conversations about calling in to work cause it's too nice out.
And Judy read about ways of looking at blackbirds.
And JK, who might be a bird, a shapeshifter at least, told stories about being on the road, learning from everyone around her, missing her friends.
And Monica read love songs of prufrock, the poem she read to her grandmother all those years ago.
“I read this at my grandmothers funeral. It was the last poem I read out loud to her. She didn’t appear to be conscious but then suddenly spoke the words, “the women come and go, talking of Michelangelo”
“Surely some revelation is at hand…” say my new German friends reading the Second Coming on St Patricks’s day at Brooklyn Inn.
And Sara reads about about waiting for a new birth of wonder.
“Which will make the world safe for anarchy…”
And Dodi reads about the Sunflower Soutre.
And Bear reads about people who die.
These are people who died.
THey were all my friends and they died.
I think of Penelope the gardener,
And Trey the punk rock romeo,
And Isle, the cat who visited me,
And Arni, who talked with me about fear and trembling on Passover.
And the Ditchdigger who disappeared.
They were all my friends and they died.
And I stumble through Harold Norse’s stories about growing up in Coney Island, jerking off in the bathroom, and meeting Auden at Brooklyn College and Tennessee in Provincetown and Times Square.
And Allen reminds us about Moloch whose buildings are violence.
And I read his Kaddish for his mother, thinking of my father.
And I run into Eileen who's screaming about the demise of the trees in East River Park, turning rage into prose. The city policy is killing trees to save the climate.
Everyone has a story.
We are not on the drugs, we are the drugs, says JC.
And what do I know.
I’m trying to write my own story about it all.
There’s a dickpick on the wall, with a dedication.
Even the streets are poems, some better than others.
Crossroads between this life and that.
Places where Dolphine meets with Desire in Orleans.
Robert Johnson met the devil at a crossroads in Mississippi.
And Cerbus guards the gates of the underworld, between this life, this world and that.
And Persephones leaves Hades, ushering in the Spring.
Some years I bring dreams.
Others poems about poems.
Some years I bring piles of love poems by Pablo Neruda.
Erik recites them from memory, journeys into the Labyrinth with Borges and Marquez.
I’m thinking of sex poems with Eileen, about Chelsea Girls peeing on her face.
And Allen’s many loves, in bed with Jack in Harlem,with Neil
Cassidey on the road with the mad one, reading hopes, wanderlust, arriving at 42nd street, with no sleep, midnight. I’m thinking of my own adventures there, a five dollar bill and a dream at Show World in Times Square, hoping for something, a glimpse of infinity through a small window.
Coming to and from the Port Authority to MOMA, stopping at Show World,
Meeting friends, reading Moby Dick, squeezing the hand.
Meeting junkies with William B.
And hustlers with Randy,
And Poets with Harold.
And the modernists in Paris with Djuna Barnes, its underworld, full of Lesbian writers, lost in love triangles, pulling in endless directions, dancing in the shadows.
“The unendurable is the beginning of the curve toward joy,” says Barnes.
How do we find our way onto that road, I wonder thinking about
Lorca, who was running from Madrid and his memorie, eventually killed by the police.
“Death, vicious death, leave a green branch for love.”
And I think about Rimbaud on the train to Paris, running from home, arrested when he arrived, going back and forth, between Paris and his friend Verlaine, who he loved and fought with and loved and argued with … on and on. Bullets and love wounds, jail, exile, cancer, a lost leg.
Too much pain, not enough exploration.
Day after day.
“He lived an alchemy of desire, his heart gladdened by chance graces. The future was still open,” Sartre wrote about Jean Genet. The encounter with the stranger opened a new story.
“...this inclination is…the other’s, It is never within our own self that we discover the unforeseeable… we discover it in those who we are not….When we stand on a precipice and suddenly feel dizzy, we feel that we are slipping away from ourself, that we are flowing, falling. Sometimes is calling us from the bottom of the gulf. That something is ourself, that is, our being which is escaping from us and which we shall join into death.”
St Genet now and forever!!!!
One day we will join him.
I think about mysteries, the chance encounters, that fall from the sky, the strangers we stumble upon.
“At one point Carlo and I talked about the letters and wondered if we would ever meet the strange Dean Moriarty,” wrote Kerouac, mythologizing his friends, Allen and Neil. “ This is all far back, when Dean was not the way he is today, when he was a young jailkid shrouded in mystery. Then news came that Dean was out of reform school and was coming to New York for the first time..."
But I still don’t have a poem.
What I do have are the details of a day in the life.
Waking up at 5 Am to pickup the teenager, at JKF, where the fuck is Terminal Four for arrivals?
There she is, back from LA.
I remember Dad meeting me at the airport.
I didn’t want to leave LA dad, she tells me, when I finally find her.
No one is making you.
That's passive aggressive Dad.
Tunes on spotify, Richard Helland the Voidoids, Love Comes in Spurts, oh it really hurts.
A rainy day, looking at the chaos, graffiti, crumbling buildings and ruins of East New York, driving down Atlantic Avenue in the drizzle, past the car shops and massage parlors,
Past Flatbush where Arnie used to live,
Back home, back to sleep,
Through the day, dreams, winter to spring, its 72 out when she wakes, out to the East Village, to Trash and Vaudeville to pick up a cool purple skating dress, and look at the rocky horror show playing down the street, and grace jones in their underwear, and Frankenfurter now and forever on a pin.
We all want to be sweet transvestites, not dreaming it, living it.
And down St Marks place, up to 9th, where we eat Pierogies and latkes and conspire about Ukraine with the waitresses.
A blue and yellow flag hangs.
No war in Ukraine says the banner.
And we walk to sing about it all in Union Square, the teenager is thinking about it all, going skating in Greenpoint.
I am meeting friends.
What are you thinking about, wonders Kevin and my German friends in the Southeast Corner of the Park.
Max is smoking a jay on his bike.
And Caroline is drinking a martini with Gene on 16 Essex, where we are walking, past the cemeteries, joining with a beer and chat about this and that.
Gene’s family is leaving Ukraine.
He gets texts all day.
Max just returned from South Africa; Saturday he is off to Jamaica.
And we go to Abrams art center to hear George tell stories about driving to Machu Picchu trail in Peru, a road trip through time, from Santa Cruz beyond.
And Gene and I chat about it all, drinking cheap rum.
And I take the East Broadway subway home.
I’m still no closer to a poem for the reading.
But the Blackbirds are still chirping, the day is still ending, soon to begin again.
THe kids waking, the club kids out all night,
And coffee soon to be brewing.
The NY Times soon to be cracking, another day in the life, between here and there.
And not a poem in site, nothing I can read anyway.
Thanks for telling me about Syd Barrett, says the teenager.
It's quiet, desperate, and lost, madcap laughs, don’t you miss me? Don’t you miss me at all?
What if you never came back, wondered Paul before he dosed the first time.
Syd never really did.
And we all did miss him.
I walk through the village, through Washington Square Park, past Doris’ old apartment, past Judson, over to Tim and Mel’s… to read poems.
Notice a dick pick with a messages on the wall.
Dick pick for Ricky, love you Ricky says the writing on the wall. Every street a poem, some better than others
Tim and Mel, living with ALS. The mental health challenges seem to echo the physical challenges. Both are living with it, no cure in site.
So, we read poems.
Ferlinghetti, Rexroth, Andre Breton.
Imagine thats your reality?
“I keep having the same dream over and over,” writes Lawrence F in Little Boy, his last book, published on his hundredth year.
“Always the same, with a disembodied me wandering some huge city, which after a few dreams I recognize as Manhattan. Yes, it's always lower Manhattan. And I’m always trying to get back, somewhere up town, Van Cortland Park, and its getting later all the time.”
We are always trying to get back.
I look at Tim.
He’s trying, unable to speak, typing messages.
He’s also living, accepting, adn being, struggling between fighting and accepting, acknowledging and rejecting his outrageous fortune.
Kennth Rexroth, recalls a lost friend:
“Close in a mesh of memory,
Its cloud of intimate odor,
Dreams instead of myself.”
Inside the volume, reveals a note from Dad,
“To Ben, on another road trip together over highway 1, to Big Sur and Holy San Francisco… May there be many more. Love Dad.”
Gone eight years, the road trips are now in our memories, taking us down into oblivion, with Jack and Dean, Carlo and Sal, Old Bull Lee making cameos, “roll[ing] through San Francisco…” again and again and again.
Mel is looking at me. He tells me about Harvey, his old friend, who still calls every X mas.
He loves Walt Whitman,
“When Lilacks Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd”
“I mourned and yet shall mourn with ever returning Spring,” says Walt.
I’m moved by Whitman, says Mel, looking at 85 yeas, losing a second lover to this.
“He’s like me, he likes men, he takes care of the poor, the destitute.”
He’s a nurse.
Tim shows me a poem on his pad.
“The Ruins of Time,” by Caron McCullers, from our home town of Columbus, who
“POssible to radiate, to sing,
Although in eternity it may be the same thing…”
Eternity starts to be what Tim is thinking about.
We are all very small.
Our particles very old.
“I want you to be madly loved,” I read Tim and Mel.
Its from Andre Breton’s “Dear Hazel of Squirrelnut.”
Dodi wanted me to read this to you.
We’ve all been thinking about dreams this years, dreams and poems, loss and war, friendships ebbing.
I still can’t find a poem.
Maybe you are a poem, says Caroline in bed this morning.
Maybe it's a song, I think scrolling through facebook, the old Who song about a note:
“I listened and I heard
Music in a word
And words when you played your guitar
The noise that I was hearing was a million people cheering
And a child flew past me riding in a star.”
It wasn’t so easy to find that note.
Pete Townsend had a nervous breakdown looking.
Billy and Savitri were looking in Brooklyn, watering the flowers, thinking about the Hotel Grand Abyss and what happens when you want socialism and you get national socialism.
I was looking for it in Yoga and Poems on poetry day,
B taught her last class, before making her way out west.
Looking at the skaters, I could feel a poetry in motion, but wasn’t sure.
Honk and company invited us for a sing along in solidarity in a #songforukraine.
“No wars, no warming,” sang Stephan Said at Astor place, singing along with the folks from Honk, who’d invited the community out for the HONK! for Ukraine at Astor Place on Monday.
“WE ARE ALSO ABOUT TO ISSUE A GLOBAL CALL FOR MUSICIANS, CHORUSES, PUBLIC EVERYWHERE TO SING/PLAY THE SONG AND LIFT A CHORUS TOGETHER FOR #ukraine,” said Stephan Said.Gradually more and more of us arrived at Astor Place, starting to sing:
“Glory to ukraine lift your voices high.
Golden are the sunflowers
Azure is the sky,” with Stephen Said, sad sorrowful music, music about being alive, resisting something we hoped we would not see again.
“No war, no warming,” said Stephan.
It wasn’t clear if we were any closer to the note or the poem I was looking for, singing into the evening, reading into the night, stories about road trips, and a cavalcade of bodies crashing in Times Square, look for something, trying to live it, trying to be that poem, that song, we could all sing in the streets together.