I was writing a poem
about a fish head
I saw on the way to work.
Then I saw a dead bird.
Suddenly, I was writing a poem
about the severed head of a fish
and the sad death of a baby finch.
As I was piecing the new poem together,
I passed the body of a dead squirrel
and later I saw the mutilated remains of a pigeon.
My poem was beginning to fill up with animals
and none of them were alive.
It reminded of something funny my friend said once.
We were passing by a cemetery and he said,
“You know how many of those people are dead?”
I shook my head.
“All of them.”
I saw a girl on the train
with my name on her hand.
There it was,
written in black cursive
on that fleshy patch between
the thumb and index finger
of her right hand.
I’d never seen that woman
before in my life.
Could it be that
her husband or boyfriend
is also named T–?
Perhaps she wrote our name
as a reminder to break things off with us.
first thing after work
and before yoga class,
where she will stretch and lengthen
and exhale all her memories of us.
We do the strangest things sometimes. I was supposed to fly home today for a short visit but decided not to go at the last minute. Not the last minute; I was at the airport though. I called my wife and said, “I’m not getting on a plane today. Is that stupid?” She said simply, “Not at all. I’ll see you at home.”
In The Sun Also Rises, Lady Brett Ashley says, “One’s an ass to leave Paris.”
She says this after referring to Paris as “this pestilential city.” Another character in Hemingway’s first book says she doesn’t like Paris. “It’s expensive and dirty.”
I guess that’s how I feel about New York. But I also feel like a fool when I leave. Now that I’m married, I don’t want to do it alone if I can help it. I want a buddy. My buddy.
I know it’s important to leave the city. My friend calls it resetting. But I just couldn’t imagine leaving today. New York looked so beautiful from the car window on the way to the airport. The city itself is resetting in the form of Spring. And it’s halfway over! A weeping kind of willow tree in our neighborhood has already cycled through it’s pretty white flowers to green.
Perhaps New York at this time, like Paris in the twenties, is “pestilential” and “expensive,” but I think what Ashley is saying is that one is an ass for giving up, for letting it get to you. I came across a commentary about Hemingway’s book when I was searching for the book jacket image. The section of the analysis that I read claims that Ashley’s comments and those of others “provide a measure of one’s ability to live fully and intelligently, getting one’s money’s worth” in gay Paree (Imagining Paris…, J. Gerald Kennedy).
Call it the beautiful struggle (tongue firmly in cheek). The struggle is very real for a lot of people in New York. Still young and vulnerable at 38, I try to remind myself of this. It’s forced on me once and awhile, too. I once struck up a conversation with a security guard at The Frick Collection museum who wanted to know if I liked living in New York. I replied yes. Did he? Not really, he said. It’s a very hard place to live for many people.
I feel grateful that I am eligible to make a choice: stay or go. A person is indeed an ass for leaving New York. Or Paris. Or anywhere for that matter. Maybe what we’re trying to do when we travel is leave ourselves.
Moments like these we will not remember,
will not be photographed
or documented in anyway.
The radio in there tuned to WNYC,
intermingling with the music in this room.
“Has so far agreed only to release the redacted version…”
“Ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum, dum, dum, dum…”
In dish gloves and with a fork in your hand,
you say to the big cat:
“There is no more. You ate all of it.”
I read somewhere that Mozart
was humming the timpani from the Requiem
when he took his last breath.
I wonder what he was doing
when he composed other melodies.
Perhaps the singsong of a peddler
through his open window,
mixing with the sound of his wife
telling their youngest son:
“There is no more, You ate all of it.”
And M. without his camera.
I’ve been thinking about infinite timelines. Not because I’ve been reading Albert Einstein but more likely because I’ve been watching Rick and Morty. And because on another timeline in an alternative universe, my one-year old cat Fish is dead and I killed her.
Recently, without me realizing it, Fish got stuck in the second drawer of my shitty dresser. The drawers are always getting stuck. I tried to close the top drawer once, twice and then paused, preparing to slam it shut as hard as I could. Something stayed my hand though.
I’ve had trouble controlling my anger in the past. The release brought on by a slammed door or a smashed electronic device always made me feel better. Or so I thought. In this instance, the relief I may have felt would’ve immediately given way to unimaginable horror. In another world (a version of hell), my little cat is dead and my partner isn’t talking to me, perhaps ever again.
Why did I keep my anger in check on this particular occasion? I don’t remember what I was thinking at the moment. Maybe a confluence of factors, or lack thereof, had something to do with it. If I had been having a bad day or even if I was hungry, I might’ve given into my frustration with the crappy furniture. But I had just had dinner and instead I calmly pulled the top drawer out to find the cutest cat ever blinking from on top of a cashmere sweater that I never wear.
I suppose you could say that God intervened in this moment. Buddhism might recognize it as a triumph of wisdom over emotion. A quote which seems to be following me around lately might be worth considering at this point. It comes from a man known colloquially as Rashi. The internet says he was a medieval French rabbi and prolific interpreter of the Talmud: “Receive with simplicity everything that happens to you.” Indeed. That especially goes for stuck dresser drawers.
I stumbled upon a section of Central Park recently that I had not known was there. The section is one of several unmanicured portions scattered throughout the park.
That was Friday, and it felt like the first real day of Spring for me. Forsythia had just started to come in and a few tall trees displayed bright red buds.
What really made it feel like Spring was the frenetic energy of the birds. In fact, the hustle and bustle in the park kept pace with the activity on nearby 59th street and 6th avenue. Bluejays seemed to be the most anxious of all the birds. The quaffed and beautiful cardinals moved with more deliberation. The elusive woodpecker–I saw only one–moved in a carefree, yet purposeful way.
I didn’t recognize the feeling watching the birds gave me until later that day when I was downtown at the Whitney Museum. I was standing in front of the painting Day One by Barnett Newman. The man on my listening device explained that much of Newman’s work, Day One especially, arouses feelings of the sublime such as you experience when looking at something in the natural world. Like Niagara Falls. Or General Sherman. Or a phalanx of colorful birds in midtown Manhattan.
I might not ever have stopped in front of the painting had I not been in the park earlier that day. It was my experience with the birds that prepared me for Newman’s piece. I had never examined Newman’s paintings closely in the past. I’d always been into his more accessible post-war cohorts such as Jackson Pollock and Willem De Kooning. The subtlety and quiet intelligence of Newman had always escaped me.
My large unabridged (and rather unnecessary) dictionary defines the sublime as “that which is grand or awe-inspiring in nature or art.” It’s no coincidence that the term can be applied in the context of the arts and the natural world. Both the arts and the natural world are under perennial attack in our money-obsessed culture. Like me walking by Barnett Newman, much of what occurs in nature can easily be ignored. Perhaps what we’re losing is the ability to look.
A penny not picked up
is a missed opportunity.
To do what?
An opportunity to bend the back
and look deeply into the earth.
A chance to add one-tenth of a dollar
to your meager coffers.
Perhaps a penny not picked up
is a chance to pass a wish onto someone else.
There’s always more pennies.