Monday, May 27, 2013

Poetic Relief: Epithalamion


COUNTERPOINT (Epithalamion 11)

Imagine a world where every door is open
where emptiness moves freely
between rooms.
Just because it is my mouth
does not signify these words are mine,
that I am speaking of or to you.
Some nights I promise to lie here
fixed beneath your weight
and listen while some strange language
erases me.
Does absence
of God in our ceremony
prove that He was here?

I know the mirror shows things
that aren’t there
but yes is real,
the names of flowers:
heliotrope, narcissus,
magnolia, dogwood, milk
(although the cows were dreaming),
that bed  placed just there
to cover an imaginary hole
under the carpet,
my mother’s backhand on my face,
and just because you piss standing 
doesn’t make you a man.

If you write the left hand,
I might write the right,
chaos or counterpoint.
The clock is faking time
but we believe because it moves
the way I still believe the next door
opening will take me home.
What interests  is the space between the moments,
where memories are manufactured,
brought to the dangerous border of mouth
but somehow stopped
before they become lies.

So here I am your bride,
my suitcase unpacked of everything but
memory which weighs always just
more than you can bear,
a vision of you
eating rice in the snow
even though it is so warm in this room
with the candles, the chandelier,
the steaming bathwater
and thankfully
love is invisible
because here on my wedding night
I lie down with you
and see nothing but a boy I’d slept with
close his eyes.


Monday, May 20, 2013

Say Graceland


Tonight I phoned one of my old downtown rocker friends.  He’d been having his share of small personal tragedies, and trouble finding work.  We’d spoken about putting our old band back together.  So it turns out, he’s actually in LA—renting a place in North Hollywood with a pool and a Jacuzzi for $600 a month, which for the uninitiated buys maybe an unfurnished week in an average cramped dumpy light-deprived roach and roodent-infested NYC apartment.  ‘There are people here,’ he tells me.  ‘There are Marshall stacks and a Goth scene.  You don’t have to take a 45 minute train ride to Canarsie to hear a goddamn band.  Manhattan is dead.’ 

Of course I am a born-and-bred New Yorker who has sacrificed everything to own my tiny piece of real estate.  I always maintained that anyone who disses my city is a sour-grapes loser.  But tomorrow is the annual coop meeting where I will have to sit with the outcasts and over-80 tenants  and vote in a bloc against the hedge-fund assholes and bankers who’d love to turn this classic pre-war into a resort.  Gut the whole damn thing--- out with the old.  I am getting to the age where the Starbucks baristas aren’t so cheery about pouring my free venti refill, the grocery boys don’t jump to open the door; they sit and watch while I struggle with my personal economics.

The corporatization of New York is an old story; the face-lift-- -the weed-like overgrowth of  21st-century context-less buildings which have really altered the logic of the old plan.  It’s a little bit Hong-Kong-y--- maybe trending toward Dubai?  Whatever… maybe this city is becoming a hideousity--- like an architectural Donatella Versace.  I mean—20 years ago, I was incensed by Starbucks—now that’s the least of my worries. 

I’m not quite ready to jump my old ship—but that phone call tonight was sort of the first indication that maybe, just maybe, my dream has become my albatross… that whatever we are struggling for here in this center of the cultural universe--- maybe it has already left, or been chased away.  It’s true, there is no rock and roll in Manhattan.  There are only versions of original bands, and then the tribute shows.  Nothing is real. 

I always hated LA.  I tried to move there way back with my rockstar husband.  I had no drivers license and I couldn’t find a bookshop I liked.  I couldn’t understand why people wanted a star on Hollywood boulevard when everyone knows there are trillions more stars in the universe than people.  Everyone looked like a character in some play; I couldn’t find the Kerouac version and I couldn’t find any grit.  I spent a few nights at the Rainbow…just didn’t fit in.  I missed CBGB’s and the Mudd Club.  Now I’m in New York, ensconced—rooted—and I still miss them.  Maybe while we were all buried in our phones and facebook pages---everyone left… including the music scene. 

He also told me he was hanging out with one of my former bandmates, who left to marry some producer out there.  Apparently her happy posts on facebook said nothing about her domestic misery and failed affair.  Apparently in my little narcissistic world of  writing and desperately trying to ‘keep it real’ musically, I am missing the point of everything.  Maybe I have deceived myself.

I’m listening to Bloomberg now.. these new companies… they are all like a major convoluted explanation for someone to get paid… the concept is a variation on something else… an excuse for making money.. an excuse to get venture capital, hire people, move around like they’re doing something… sell stock, etc…  medical ideas are unaffordable… $140,000 for a pill…takeovers in the ‘medical device’ industry.  Something is wrong.  No one should be taking over.  They should be giving away.  Giving.

I’ve joked that Manhattan is now for the billionaires and those that serve them:  the sycophantic celebrity-sucking nouveau middle class.  So yes, the irony of stars being a dime a dozen---or less—but it seemed, 50 years ago, that people were distinct--  that they looked like who they were--- they were unique.  Even in fashion--- voiceless models were unique: there was Twiggy, Jean Shrimpton, Lauren Hutton—Penelope Tree.   Now all these blonde vegan froth actresses maybe started out looking like something, but they get their noses shaved down, their skin scraped, their lips plumped, their hair processed.  Black people have straight blonde hair.  At least 10 actresses look exactly like Jennifer Lopez.  Or maybe I have cultural cataracts.  Whatever.  I didn’t mix people up back then.  Now I have to look at captions. 

This couple moved into my building.  They were not very good looking:  pudgy and awkward.  The wife had brown frizzy hair and squinty eyes.  Now they have grown thinner and thinner; the husband wears Gucci loafers and combs his hair straight back and has learned that Wall Street slow-strut.  The wife looks like a Pilates instructor.  All the lumps and bumps have disappeared.  Especially the ones on her nose.  Her skin is smooth and her eyes are wide open.  Her daughter’s nose is straight, too—like they had to destroy all genetic evidence of any flaws.  They have matching Balenciaga bags.  Yesterday she was blonde.  Beyonce-blonde.

This woman I know posted on facebook that she’s now homeless.  She came to see me last year with her daughter and granddaughter. People in my building—the staff-- -they questioned me about them.  They asked who they were.  They’re PEOPLE, I said.  People.  My doormen said they looked like trailer trash.  The doorman.  ‘They’re people from the Midwest who have had lives.’  How do I know them?  The real story? I bought something on ebay.  It came broken.  I wrote to the seller and she began writing to me.  She listens to my songs and reads my poems.  She comments.  She’s interested.  So she rented a car and drove here.  ‘They have bedbugs, these kind of people,’ my super said.  Fuck you, I didn’t say.  I own this place.  They would like it if I didn’t own, but we’re stuck.  The thing is--she looks like someone, this person.  She looks unique…the way I did, the way everyone did before they realized everything could be fixed.  What if someone decided to flatten the world?  To shave down the mountains and fill in the ditches and oceans…so it would be easier to ‘mow’?  Well that’s what’s happening here…people look generic.  Hair is generic.  You can change everything--- your face, your body, your age, your hair texture…you can put on 8-nch heels and look tall even if you’re stout and pudgy with short legs… so suddenly a piglet is a gazelle.  It’s messed up.  Like those toys where you put the dog head on the gorilla body.  We can do this now.  We can get an Alec Baldwin face on a popsicle body.  You can be 4 ‘2” and have Charlize Theron’s face… or at least her make-up.  I see about 50 people a day who look exactly like Tyra Banks.  Beyonce.  Who the f- is she? Show your ID.  Shake it.  Double shake it like you do.  That’s Beyonce Knowles.  Another fake name. 

Maybe Manhattan is just the fat-Elvis version of what used to be New York.  People like the fat Elvis.  Just not this person.  

My neighborhood poet today was wearing a down coat and sunglasses.  It was overcast and 80 degrees.  She was pre-occupied and shuffling.  Please, I wanted to say--- don’t leave me.  I look down--- my shoes are so out of style they could possibly be cool in LA.  My clothes are shabby and I’m a version of myself that might be my own fat Elvis.  

Another friend who moved to Nashville just called and asked me to overnight him  a pastrami sandwich.  Since the old Second Avenue deli has gone,  I looked on the internet to find out where to get the best pastrami, just in case he was serious.  Turns out it’s in Nashville.  Nothing is real.  Say Graceland.  

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Poetic Relief, Mother's Day....


NIAGARA

Some nights no matter what I do
the words come out in red.
‘I’m going in…’
something a soldier might say,
preface to a rescue …
I don’t want to hear the rest…
a child, this time,
playing a game that he will lose,
but there will be more…
there will be the fishing-out part,
more words in red.

I’d been thinking all day about
our trip to Niagara Falls…
for me a kind of apostrophe
at the end of the world…
between 2 chasms,
a dance of water
I was unprepared for.
Did they have to shine those rainbow lights
like a floor show
that makes it all ridiculous?
And how the two sides didn’t match,
but one makes the other more absurd.
And how we felt a bit sheepish,
to cross over,
forced to show our passports
just to look backward at the side we’d left,
wondering if the water was deeper, faster,
the boatride cheaper,
the humid night one hour less oppressive.
My camera lens was wet with spray,
our hair was damp and limp
and the falls were exhausting.
Nothing, nowhere, was a souvenir I could relate to.
Still,
I couldn’t tear myself away:
the scale, the noise
cheap snacks in the shape of falls, whatever that is,
endless wet rainbows and the noise,
the cameras 
photographing terror, the noise
and everywhere a certain boaty smell
of death or rot.

I didn’t fail to note the irony
of Iceland, where the falls went up.
To a soundtrack of squawking ducks,
that sulphury smell,
you asked me to marry you.
But we too were on the way up…
or at least you thought we were.
Still,
I felt like throwing up,
the way I did at Niagara after inhaling the spray
for so many hours
or maybe it was the ice cream I craved
like an antidote
which seemed to annoy you
though by then everything about me
annoyed you
except of course the sex.
And after days of driving through
tired dialogue rehearsals
and your famous car soundtracks,
restless sleep and petty disagreements
were all the foreplay
we could muster.

At Niagara we were definitely
on the way down.
It pushed us to a kind of edge—
the sight of it, the nauseous humidity,
the gradual and thick surprise of night,
the ringed moon like a prop,
the distances you had to walk
just to get away from the crowds,
the whining children, fat families eating
always eating—
and the smell of Canadian beer,
the crushed sun-heated cans,
overflowing garbage pails,
motel disgust.

I kept trying to imagine my young mother
still a virgin
between 2 continents,
on the edge of a world,
as high as she had ever been,
as far from home, as close to a future,
the rushing,
and her lover with his purple hearts.
She must have felt safer in his arms than I in yours.
The blue raincoats were a disappointment.
Bagged, and helpless and absurd in the filthy
sightseeing boat—
it was anything but romantic.
And still I couldn’t leave.

They say things have not changed
so much.  I don’t remember men
with beards and golf shirts
telling us from late-night TV sets
how much they earned
this month alone selling real estate
in spare evening moments.
In those days these hours were for love,
radio broadcasts,
front-stoop cigarettes, for sweating,
glass of lemonade or gin-and-tonic,
emergencies.
Now these hours are cheap, for TV sale.
Nothing is real—certainly not estate,
and not these over-groomed
glib strangers who find their
way into our sad bedroom
to tart up otherwise naked hours
with unbearable reminders of how
at home despite safe quilted beds
our children pay men to pierce holes
in those tender bodies
I have stayed awake so many nights
to save, to heal, to wipe away their sweat and tears,
to touch.
I pretend not to care, although there will be a toll
for this, a punishment
for other sins I will commit tonight,
permission to undo, which I refuse.

Things hurt more, the social worker said,
at this age.
I’m going in, he said,
Goodbye.
But first removed his coat,
my sweet boy,
with no description.
After all, who wasn’t once 5’2”
110 pounds?

So I have a new man now---
love doesn’t hurt
the way it did with you.
Maybe I was piercing myself
while you looked away.
I know he doesn’t open letters
like you did,
read my poor tired words
with anything but obligation.
I am sick of knowing
you define your life as happy
depending on some woman or other,
how close you are to tracking her,
that’s when you feel the best.
I gave you up for this:
a man who doesn’t fight with me
about the Falls, about car music,
about hurting,
doesn’t read over my shoulder,
cares little for my poems,
fucks with experience not desperation.
Still,
some nights no matter what I do,
the words come out in red.

Why did he pick that
one part of the river?
I’m going in, he said,
a fireman’s last words.
If it had been Niagara,
would he have jumped,
would he have as considerately
left his coat,
a legacy or proof he handed over
to his sister
so they would believe her?
At least they believed her.

And things hurt more at this age,
the man said,
although they go on piercing
and cutting
and drowning in dark rivers,
and hating you for saving them,
because I would have jumped
into the coldest waters
to hold anyone’s hurting child close
but it would not have comforted
like the sucking down.
I am an outsider,
lack the strength.
I am the Falls.
These children do not want
our pathetic passion,
our blue raincoats,
our blankets and cameras.
They need to jump
some nights, no matter
what you do, see
words come out in red.