Wednesday, September 24, 2014

draft one--Brooklyn


Morning bicycle rides through southeast Brooklyn,

On broken concrete and glass

Through old neighborhoods where the same family lives in the same townhouse

To even older tenement houses now stacked with hipsters already late for the morning commute

The pungent smell of the fish market, the butchers down in Canarsie,

And dirty Remsen Avenue, with its fast cars like a highway

  with slow street traffic lights

On this avenue, I bike on the sidewalk,

Threading between students in their Charter School Uniforms,

Mothers covering their unkempt morning hair with scarves & bandanas

Men on morning routes for the electrical company

Fast Food stores already open, always open.
 

Upon reaching the corner of Remsen and Farragut,
 
 I am two minutes late on the dot

Sweaty from the ride

Ready for breakfast left molding on the kitchen counter.

 Daytime is overworked yet cheerful teachers, social workers, janitors,

And the lilting jangle of Caribbean Accents
 
Such is life in the Brooklyn that is not-yet famous.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

My Home State, In One Line.

"West Virginia is so nice. The Taco Bell girl cared so much about my night"

Monday, September 8, 2014

Circular Waltz

Turn on the TV,
pour a glass of red wine,
a heavy-sigh cleans the slate for happier days.

Passing silent after silent afternoon
Would have loved, a year ago,
this place to call our own.

Door creaks in time with the passing Q train,
it used to be my favorite.
Now, any amount of travel promises twinging anxiety.

There are ghosts next door,
leering forms in past and present participle
ghosts in the corners of the psyche.

When will these blue days end.



Friday, September 5, 2014

Two months of silence, amidst a last triumphant finale of  consistence uprooting.  Finally, the Runaway is Reformed.

I live in a rather large apartment in Brooklyn. Prospect Lefferts Gardens. Right by the park.

Work is scarce and hard to come by. My father is sick.  Occasionally, morning heaviness hits, and voices whisper that the effort required to get out of bed is overrated.

Overall, those mornings are few and far between. They are punctuated by urgent whispers-- guilting me into a morning run. With blood pumping sufficiently well, it is hard to hear even the most insistent whispers of my worthlessness.

There usually something to do. An appointment to make. A song to write. A bar to try. It keeps me busy.  But something is gone; it's that ruthless insistence to show my work. To say "Look at me!"
I'd rather just live and do the things that keep me living. After learning very little in my life, I finally learned that this is the most difficult and important part of existence.

New York, perhaps, is not the best place for that sentiment. But it is where I am now. And there is still growth to be found here, lessons to be learned, paths that will ultimately lead me back to the quiet comfort of books, trees. Finally, the pursuit of a humble existence.

In the meantime, I'll try not to be angry at this city. It is always For Sale. I just wasn't looking hard enough before.

And now, there is a voice combating the sadness, saying that life is worth living, even when it is so incredibly hard.  That I am good and kind and smart, even when I feel hollow.  So there are things to admire. There are ways to be happy, although I am unsure how to making a living in this city.

I suppose this is happiness, even if it doesn't always feel that way.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

San Po Po Season

If you google "San PoPo Season", nothing relevant comes up.
But in Guatemala City, everyone knows about San PoPos.
Perhaps I am spelling it incorrectly, although it is difficult to imagine a more feasible permutation.

They look like the backseat offspring of flies and ants who had too much to drink one night, and decided, what the hell?! Which is exactly what one says in response to the sudden arrival of San Po Pos.  While you are away doing an exercise video to stave off laziness and boredom, they sneak into your room and blanket your quilts with their six-legged nuisance in under five minutes. When the rainy season hits--and it has--the neighborhood ladies say that they fall from the sky with the rain.   

Adults and children alike collect the San Po Pos in jars and eat them for lunch. There are contests for who can eat the most. They dare us to comelo, just one.  It's una tradicion.

There are many traditions, like San Po Po season, that seem unsavory to an outsider's eye.  For example, setting off endless firecrackers at the crack of dawn in celebration of a birthday. This might  just be an annoyance, if we didn't live in Esperanza. Land of the more-than-occasional sunset shootings.

As it is, one quickly learns the difference between tiny popping firecrackers and the sound of gunshots. But, that first time, when you don't know the difference--your blood goes thick like lead as you sit in bed and wonder, why are there so many automatic rifles going off at breakfast? The truth, is--very few people with a Brahva hangover are likely to crawl out of bed before noon to pump someone's belly full of lead.

The bugs smell like citronella when you crush them, and since the soap is always half-diluted, most of San Po Po season is spent with the roof smelling like a bargain-shop tiki torch. I suppose this odor is better than the smell of burning trash, which I grew accustomed to after the first day.  Although I cannot help but wonder if the perpetual sore throat and runny nose is not a result of the rainy season, but rather a response to the acrid perfumes of battery smoke and old toilet seats.

~~  ~~  ~~

One of the women who works here is eight months pregnant. She lives on the precipice overlooking the dump.  Every morning, she climbs a small mountain to get into the neighborhood.  I don't know her well, but I often wonder if it would be strange to offer to rub her feet.  There are so many things I can't do--but I can give a pretty good foot rub.

Our librarian's neighbor was shot. She was dating some of the gang members.  When it happened, a man was wailing about his brother, and so we thought it was a man who was killed.  Gritando, mi hermano, ay mi hermano, no, mi hermano. 

It's very possible that, as is often the case, I misheard him. That o could easily have been an a.  If his keening hadn't doubled and tripled the length of his vowels--I'd be more willing to admit that, like the time I asked for a "half book of rice"--my intermediate Spanish steered me wrong.

I wonder what his brother had to do with all of that. Was it his girlfriend? Was he the one who shot the gun? Disembodied wails have a strange power.  They leave an insatiable desire to know what, exactly, happened.
They remind you of times that you heard such wailing come from your own belly.  It didn't sound or feel like you. Rather, it felt like grief had momentarily taken control of your body, some possession of sadness. And how that possession lingered.  How you were wailing for months on end, only no one could hear you. It had never occurred to you to stop, until you noticed how strangely everyone was looking at you.  And so you didn't. You just pegged it up inside of yourself, and howled from within.

In Guatemala, a person is buried many times over.  The first time, they are buried in their coffin; a rather large plot. This lasts for fifteen years, until the body has decomposed enough to be moved to a smaller resting place.  Then, it is exhumed and moved to a smaller plot, to make room for new cemetery visitors.

The family pays for the cemetery plot every year, and then pays an additional premium to have the body exhumed and moved to its second home.  If they cannot pay, the remains are thrown into the city dump.  The cemeteries are crowded; this how we make room for new residents.  People are buried into the walls of the cemetery. Climb a ladder, pay your respects, climb back down to earth.  The plots are crowded on mother's day, father's day, during Semana Santa, and on particularly popular birthdays.

many founders of this community moved here to escape a genocide.  Some still wear colorful wrap skirts and hand-embroidered blouses that signify their indigenous homes. most still bury more than their fair share of young people.  I wonder if the genocide really stopped, or just changed hands. I wonder how one person can hold so many memories of loss in her heart, and still have the strength to laugh, eat tostadas, attend long, drawn-out meetings.

The preferred method of gang intimidation is this: they sneak a cell phone in your pocket. It rings, you do what they say.

Last week, one of the women who works at upavim got a cell phone.  Unable or unwilling to pay, she did nothing.  In response, she was issued three warning shots, and then packed up her family and relocated to a place with a different gang.  They offer protection for now, with the promise of future intimidation.

The view at night is incredible, and in the morning, too. Two volcanoes, ready to help the sun rise in as glorious a manner as possible. Always crowned in mysterious cloud cover.  Ready to have poems written in its honor,  to defy your sense of longevity and endurance.  And just to the left of these prehistoric monuments--the city dump.  Always on fire, even during the rainy season.

I wonder if the city dump-creators had a sense of humor, or just lacked appreciation for a good landscape.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Reflections on the first week in Esperanza

The sky is purple in the evening; low-hanging clouds of humid pollution make the town below a watercolor painting.  Blurred lines, houses stacked on top of  one another. Ridged sheet metal with crosses and messages and street numbers painted onto the sides slapped up against one another--saving space, sharing materials--whatever the reason might be for having such closely kept neighbors.

No one has enough, but there is ample time to keep score.  The have-less, the have-none, have-some, the gets-by.

In Esperanza, women build the schools, sell the vegetables & paper & food, raise & rear the children. Meanwhile, men go about drinking beer, breaking shit and making nighttime into closed doors and hushed voices, jumping at crack of gun or car.
 
 The woman who makes tortillas across the street is superstitious and spits into the dough. Four for a Quetzal, they'll burn hands from their thin plastic bag so juggle them with a couple liters of beer. Hop skip jump up the stairs lickety-split to avoid the smattering of evening rain.  Beer is shared piecemeal between mugs but all four liters are finished by ten; the tortillas are clammy when fried with the morning eggs.

 Up the hill, city center is a globular cluster of iridescent green and yellow. The sonorous tin roof rain is made less romantic by a flooding kitchen. Over half of the shared living space is outdoor; so when it rains, stack into the kitchen and mimic the neighborhood architecture. What little space there is to be had is shared between flies and a foundling cat.

In the hours between beer and drowsiness, play at getting along with the techo-mates. With three-to-a-room, countless prayers request a moment to dress in ripped underwear without concern of unwanted voyeurs. Other times, it is nice to hunker down shoulder to shoulder in shared joy and misery to see what unfolds among souring beer and waterlogged streets.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

I carried you all over town.

I carried you all over town.


I carried you through the east village, 
and whispered,
these are the places I would go,
the park where you could score
big drugs in the eighties, now
filled with bilingual children
a community garden &
mutts kicking up dust in
languid clouds that
settled into their pelts
dappled with dirt
freckles like the ones
you had in late August,
& we connected the dots
finding symbols between
those imagined lines.

I walked to the top of the island and
stopped on the peaked rocks to see
the rich folks from afar, whispered
the graffitied messages spouting
an eternal end, the low hanging threats
painted as a last resort
protesting the end of protest
hoarse voiced and weak after
years of being told they won.

And nodded off to dream sounds in a basement
once full of our nation's greatest dissenters
now sated by a class
believing in thirteen minute drum solos and
the value of a college education
Never having eaten baked beans from the
can for the love of an idea,
they have to hold onto something.


I carried you all over town
and then I let you go.

among the first wildflowers I found
speckled sunlight like you wouldn't believe
old high rises at either side
the river to your back
& quiet guitar floating over the hill
singing,
she is standing right in front of me.
speaking words of wisdom
let it be


I watched the sunlight catch the
most minute parts
before the wind current
bore them across town.

your shadow on my hand
our last day spent
as compensation for stolen time.