Friday, March 23, 2007


Hey, M____, wish we could turn back time and sit at the Second Avenue deli with a bowl of matzoh ball and something hot on rye toast with a knish for dessert and discuss the semiotics of Boston Red Socks fans and our grandfathers.

Dear H_____, what I wouldn’t give to talk out the state of the novella with you in a diner booth in Austin, Brooklyn, or L.E.S. The next milkshake is on me.

J______! Meet me at the batting cage at Coney Island. Loser pays for skeeball til it closes.

My dear P_______, Save me a seat at the nearest café. You’ll find your love someday, I swear. I’ll get published to my heart’s content. We’ll finally make that video about the wolves and the sheep. Meanwhile we have each other, and a four hour meal if we want it, and bitching about everything that isn’t right yet.

Dream image: A man walks into a revolving door with eight chambers. A woman walks into the chamber behind him, to spy on him. A man follows in the chamber behind her, to spy on her. Etc., until the last chamber is also occupied by a spy, and everyone’s cover is suddenly blown.

Not-a-dream image: At the Arab restaurant, a woman at the table next to us excuses herself to answer a cell phone call. Over Thomas' shoulder, I catch sight of the woman talking on her cell phone on a bench near the dessert case. Her left hand is holding her cell phone to her ear, in an unusual way, her hand straight up and almost flat, her phone hidden by her blonde hair. Her right hand is guarding her ear against the room’s noise, and also rests straight and flat against her head. Her eyes are wide and her mouth is hanging open. Dressed in a bright green vee-neck sweater and black swing skirt, she looks like a 1950s sock-hop version of “The Scream.”

Wednesday night’s dream: I am on a Greyhound bus, writing a story in oil stick on the pages of a fashion magazine. In the front of the bus, I see the emerging author, N______ C______. He knows me but not by sight; I keep my anonymity. The bus has a long rest stop at a library in the Midwest. We are sitting at the same table, with the 12 year old who is his travelling companion; still I don’t introduce myself. I lose time, it is sometime later, and it is the Danville bus station I am departing from. I know it will take me at least 13 hours to get to D.C.

Thursday, waking life: Emerging author N_____ C______, with whom I have mutual friends but with whom I have never communicated, emails me to ask me for a ride to Cleveland. I tell him, Sorry, but, I haven't had a driver’s license in nine years.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

This is not a poetry blog. But this poem is a story.


Jason and I like to
argue who found that
apartment first—no, not like you
think, he always gives me the credit.
I remember it was him because
when he told me: You take the L train
to ________ and then walk fifteen or
twenty minutes out, across a four lane
road until you hit a little park and luncheonette,
I told him: Jason! Walking fifteen minutes away
from the subway is code for Dangerous Place to Be
and don’t you know?: Parks are where muggers hide
and contemplate their prey. It was 1996 when we
moved to Sutton Street, at $825 for seven rooms
shared by two people who were never a couple.
The neighbors would have keeled over at what
we were paying: Polish and Dominican immigrants
and the American family across the street with a nine
year old named Elvis.

After us, Patrick and Anne moved in around
the corner, across from the laundromat and
above the hardware store; then Chantal below them.
There was one conspicuous hipster in our part
of the neighborhood, a fellow we didn’t know; and some artists
who’d lived closer to the River for a long time, but I’d find out about
them much later.

Now it’s 2007, I’m in Pittsburgh a year. I’m further from a subway
than I’ve been in over a decade, and paying what I paid
to rent a room in Fort Greene in 1992. I get reports from afar
that Williamsburg is buying and selling in the million$, that Busta
Rhymes calls it home, and according to Christina on Java Street,
the rooftops of Greenpoint are crowded with a skyline of drummers
and latchkey trustfunders paying $1800 for their railroad floor-throughs.

From seven stories above the Pittsburgh pavement, I wonder
about the infamous pyramid of urban renewal: first the artists
move in to the depressed area, then the students, then
the gay couples, and finally the wider breed of yuppy. I wonder
how much responsibility is whose to take, and what kind of damage
I did to myself and my neighbors when I paid 70%
of my income in rent, subsisting on canned beans
with chopped onions, and $1.25 slices, mostly in the name
of outgrowing my parents' wishes for me.

Jason would come home from a long day
at school and play some Bobby Dylan in a fury
on his acoustic guitar. I wrote a novel while
sitting in bed under piles of wool the winter
before the landlord changed the windows from glass
to vinyl; Jason felt lonely on the living room couch
we’d jointly purchased from Sidney the junk dealer
on Driggs Avenue. When we left the house together,
our street framed the Citibank skyscraper in L.I.C.
and he’d always say, “Tallest building in Queens!,”
after which I’d launch into the theme of “All in the Family.”

I didn’t get mugged until ’98,
and it wasn’t quite in Greenpoint but
a little ways East. By then the streets
around Graham Avenue and Frost were looking towards
a quiet war of Midwestern library students vs. Italian
home-owners and diaspora-Africa in Section Eight.
Sitting in the precinct on Meserole, I waited
through a Brooklyn brown-out before I identified
the guy in the 800th digital photograph in the database.
One officer offered me Chinese takeout, and
eventually my case would get thrown out of court,
while my mugger went to prison anyhow, for second
degree arson, recent and local.

These days I’m betrothed to someone I knew before I ever knew New
York City, and Jason, who’s since married and divorced, stops for
visits from Flint, on his way through to see his mother
in Reston, Virginia.

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Some of this Morning's Dreams

Tiger Woods returned my phone call, months after I had tried to call him for an interview. He spoke as if we were familiar: “What’s up?”


I saw Jonathan Ames climbing a tree outside the library window. I was in a hushed computer lab, and there he was, this middle aged writer, wrestling with the trunk of a sycamore. He was based in New York, but when I saw him, I knew that he was now on a performance art tour, and that for the next few weeks, he would be in Pittsburgh climbing trees. Without moving from my seat, I emailed V____ to tell him what I was seeing.


I was downloading Jpeg after Jpeg. The files had something to do with the Pittsburgh strip club “Cricket” and their star, “Joey.” I was sad for her. I wondered who named her Joey, which brand of pervs she brought in, and how lonely she was.


It was M_____’s turn to lead the weekly meeting, therefore hardly anyone came. We sat at cafeteria tables and orange plastic chairs, but in a smallish room. M_____ sat up front with Lord of the Rings stuffed animals around her. She looked self-satisfied verging on smug.

I decided I was getting out of this, and excused myself to go to the bathroom down the hall. This public ladies’ room was quite old and elaborate, decorated to the hilt in the _________ style, which was very flowery. I was admiring the tub, which was like a closed chamber, and wondering if anyone ever used it, when I looked closer and saw the feet of a young woman. I startled her greatly by saying something out loud; she hadn’t heard me enter the room. She was a ballerina. We talked for a bit while she was still behind the closed chamber.


The dream was shot in panorama. We were driving to, then from, an odd job we’d gotten—construction or gardening, something out of doors. The drive was along a river, with beautiful vistas of hills lining one bank. On our side of the river, there was a long chain link fence that surrounded a sculpture and lawn ornament business. It stretched for a long time—in the light I could see it clearly, the Madonnas, the Romanesque columns and Greek women, even theatre masks and mimes were represented in concrete. In the evening, on our return drive, the shadows of twilight played tricks with my eyes, and the statues looked like families huddled around fading fires.

“We” was a number of my old high school friends with whom I’d lost touch. They all laughed and teased each other, they had in jokes, they shared stories and histories; for they had remained close friends. I was silent and stiff. We were in the back of a pickup truck, except for the ones who were riding in the cab. Someone lifted the barrier between the cab and bed at one point, effortlessly. They showed each other how the owner of the truck was planning to put a nice dining room set in the back seat.


Driving through my home county (perhaps a continuation of the pick up truck dream, perhaps not), I was seeing things that I never knew were there. A summer camp I’d never heard of. Hills and trees in between odd businesses housed in log cabins. Finally I was on foot, though still with a group of people. Maybe we had just been working as camp counselors. We ran into a band of eleven year old boys and their Boy Scout leader, who was angry with me instantly. I suddenly realized that I wasn’t wearing a shirt OR I suddenly realized that I was a woman. Shame overtook me and I covered myself with my arms. Then I found an old purple teeshirt and finally put it on. It was summer, I was enjoying the humidity and the lack of decorum in general.

In the end I found myself at a dinner party with my parents, who looked unspeakably glum as they moved from table to table, filling their plates with American food—cold cuts, cranberry sauce, pot roast, scalloped potatoes.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Excerpts from a June Jordan essay, “Do You Do Well to Be Angry?” (September 25, 2001):

“More than three thousand have perished here. And, in turn, tens of thousands will perish elsewhere. And, in turn, there will be more and more thousands perishing from the universal arrogance of our universal propensities to judge, and to identify, other human beings as the ones to be ‘eradicated.’
“I am an American.”


“I do not believe I am good. Or that we share a national legacy of innocence to protect and perpetuate.
“Who is more violent than we?”


“Who is not a terrorist?”


“We, Americans, must not allow ourselves to become what we abhor: a terrorist force, furiously striking out at the known and the unknown poor peoples of Central Asia and the Middle East.
“We must not permit ourselves to act as a terrorist people!”


“As of September 11, 2001, the world we thought we knew went down.
“And how shall we rebuild?
“And should we reconstruct, or should we dare ourselves into an unforseen millennial recovery, a millennial upholding of our best ambitions, a millennial declaration of a slow kiss dedication to equality and justice?”


“It is not bin Laden’s jihad but the greater jihad that we should embrace: the interior struggle against egotism and supremacist notions of every kind.
“Ours is a struggle to fathom and assume responsibility--for justice, and for the rapid demise of double standards of all degrees, all forms.”


“Sometimes I am the terrorist I must disarm.”