A Glimpse of the Sublime

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.    



Pick It Up

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.


Walking home at night

the branch of a large tree blocks my passage.

Rain-slicked and cool to the touch,

a London Plane perhaps?


My name is Todd.

Will you give me the road?

I mount the fallen limb,

careful to swing one leg over at a time.

Walking away, I wonder,

Is this it?


What the Nighttime Said

Comes to me while I’m sleeping.

Whispers into my ear

a plaintive singsong:

“Moving water never grows stale.”

So I begin to kick my legs.

This wakes my partner up.

What are you doing? She asks.

Just flowing, I say.

You’re fidgeting. Be still.

Very well.

Sweet Thames (East River), run softly, till I end my song.


All My Saturdays

We went down to the Navy Yards yesterday and fed the feral cats. Our favorite was a large Tabby the size of a small mountain lion. A large orange cat sneaked through a hole in the fencing and made like he wanted to come home with us.

I tried to convince Chelsea to climb the fence with me but she refused. I’m not sure it was a genuine offer anyway.

Later, we bought a bottle of champagne from Diego and walked to Fort Greene Park to enjoy the sunshine. Unlike the poor slobs forced to lay on the ground, we took the sun as we swung in our hammock.

I reminded Chelsea that this was one of only 52 Saturdays in the year.