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Rosemary, these crackers from the 99-cent store, the first inhalation and&Summer, my father's house, a backyard bounty of a gift from my sister, a smallish rosemary shrub, bonsai-like in its tiny trunk and cascading branches, soon replanted in the rich compost-enhanced black soil my father tilled, then harvested for tea and pork roast and hair rinse on a summer afternoon, discovering later its significance as memory, so appropriate,
, a hand-drawn picture on our wedding invitation, this familiar ties me to an earlier, sunny day in memory, connects me to a joyful thought, my next hopeful breath.
Like Ishmael's journey, all he saw, the blood, the madness, the smell of the salt sea, in search of the fable, someone else's myth. And like a dream conjured, a voice comes over the telephone, my mind so haphazard these days, a conversation less than 24 hours ago is nearly forgotten. There was talk of butter mochi, something about Maine looking like the Windward side, the mountains, the ocean, but what about the winters, yes the winters, she lamented, the reality of decision dawning on her, all that's led up to here, is what I mean when I say
Not salty enough. Not cold enough in my mouth. And the aggravation.
Like a blister in the sun
. Captain Cook traveled the world, the way his dirty shoes touched all our shores. We are wont to blame him, but he only administered the inevitable. Do you agree? Or no, if not for Cook, would we be bare breasted and unburdened by Christian grief? New York City has history but no black sand beaches, just an underground subway paved with spirits speaking ancient languages. The subway tracks buckle and bend in the heat, metal scraping metal deafeningly, renders all conversation insignificant.
Summer Friday in the city. Italian ices, coco helado, the original ice shave man in the cul-de-sac by the projects. Open fire hydrants only spray a sprinkle, supposed to cool down, we all say, the weather report said it was going to rain today. Untrusting of our own senses anymore, no feel for rain or heat in our bones anymore. The sky holds no clues, leaden only with neglect and American-made pollutants. No relief there.
Leaf boats raced down the drainage channel faster than we could run, the rain clear and wet, splashing and laughing, everything else was crystal.
This is how short my memory is now. From one day to the next, I need alarms going off to remind me of my personal 100 words commitment. Unlike brushing my teeth or checking the weather report, not a natural act to me, words don't come together anymore, receding to some dark space where communication is telepathic. Unspoken; my hand on your wrist, clicking of my tongue: joy. A sharp inhalation, lowered head: sadness. What more needs to be said, why so many words at all now, cell phones, text messaging, no one understands any more than they used to.
On Sunday we see Kate and Kobi on Elizabeth Street. Leo is mopey and balding; his fur ejects from his skin, floats in the stifling hot air like dandelion spray. Misa emails from villages in China, on a quest for a laundromat. We sit in the storefront amid painted, cut tin and tiny nails. Kate's almost whisper drowned out by the mini-skirted shoppers on the street. Leo sits sentry in the doorway, everyone stops and exclaims. Kobi in the rocking chair, G leans on the table saw, we form a square, or perhaps a circle. In perfect time, birthday girl.
Ah yes, my first proper date. A boy from college, we went to a Chinese restaurant. The parking lot bordered a train station, I exclaimed, Look, a train! And people getting out! Later I tried to find which train stop that was, but never was certain. Metro Park, maybe. We had dinner, a grain of white rice stuck to his ample bottom lip a long time. I didn't say anything. After dinner we went to check his mail, found a message from his father. He took me to a hospital to visit his mother. I met his father there too.
Uninspired. Insipid. Impeded. Arachnid.
There is a woman wandering the streets of New York at this very moment. Either on the west side or the east side, she can see a river from where she is, she can smell the funk coming off the water and feel the heat of passing cars. She is wearing the wrong shoes for this day, but never realized one day in the city would end up being a lifetime of searching, wandering north and south, avoiding the middles. She sees something floating near the river's edge, animal or human, she decides against further investigation.
the sun zooming in. a meltdown expected. engines stop running. but I have no fear& I live by the river
Joe Strummer as Nostradamus. Rock and roll as prophecy. Didn't take a genius to see the same things, but certainly genius to put the words together in that way, the clanging music in the background and spat lyrics evoking his particular London. We have no prophets here, we march to our own individual fears, veering from the path of our so-called leaders, eyes closed to the atrocities. No rhymes for the horror, the stupidity. I live by the river too.
It's always something, living in this city. I was just thinking to myself, how much longer can I stand this, the endless crowds and perpetual noise. Yesterday the 6 was so crowded my peaches got smashed. Literal, actual peaches in a plastic bag, crushed between me and a bunch of sweaty guys on the way to Grand Central. I got out after one stop, walked 50 blocks home. Must be something, I thought. Maybe those 11 missing Egyptian students. Today London and New York airports, no liquids on planes. Always something, heightened security, heightened anxiety. Too close now. No comfort.
It must have been me. Something about me that brings it out in people, starting with her, from the day I was born to the day she went silent and all the ugly moments in between. I've been wrong in blaming her, wrong in trying to find a reason. It was me all along, something so deep and horrible inside me, something she could see from the start. She had no protection, convention begged to differ. That was the fear I've carried so long, finally brought to light. Unworthiness, less than acceptable. I can't blame anyone, it's always been me.
It sneaks up on you, this mortality thing. At a happy wedding, or walking into a room and seeing someone sitting on the couch, head tucked under, asleep. He got old so quickly, someone might comment. Or, we're next. Then the all the worries you once had about getting old melt together, overtake you, and become, well&the inevitable. Funny how the brain works. At every age we know anyone can die at any time. But the more years you put behind you&it becomes more of a question, what will happen, how, when? Why? doesn't figure into the equation anymore. Because.
You hold my dreams in the well of your hands. You whisper your wishes into nighttime air, the moon so bright it outshines street lights, pours over the royal violet curtains. You sing into my sleep, my thoughts weave in and out on highways and byways, faces in photographs come to life, distant memories tinged blue over treetops. You blow a kiss as I slip away, down Mediterranean seaside roads, across decades, so often stopping for a visit in my father's house. You guide me, but rarely join me, you stand aside and guard my dreams until I awaken, sunrise.
When did I start wearing these old lady sandals? You know, sensible, comfortable, goes well with skirts or slacks, no need for hose? Not earthy or rugged, not for hiking or walking or backpacking across Europe. Not those. And not those high heels like the sexy alligator skin grey pair that I stood up in two whole summers at that clothing store until my baby toenails split off and left for good. Not pumps or loafers or boots or mules, but these black strapped, tan soled, medium heeled dressy casual, when-the-hell-did-I-become-this-old-lady sandals?
Email is perfect for this--this kind of communication I excel at. For reaching out with only a half outstretched arm, wanting only to tap someone so lightly on the shoulder, that they aren't sure if they felt something or not. Calling someone's name, almost only to myself. Hello, how've you been? No intonation, no attachment of sentiment. Waiting for a response, if any will come. And usually it will, in similar non-gregarious way. Fine, thanks, yourself? Occasionally and comically one will appear, five exclamation points after every bulleted sentence. So happy to hear from you!!!!! Ditto, back at ya.
You say you toss words together and hope they make sense. I say, even if it doesn't. I say, it should all amount to something. Multiply one hundred by how many days, months, years? Everything we've ever said and put on paper. Is it easier to say less or more? What can you communicate within these parameters? How much space do you need, how many words from the vocabulary do you use? What do you require and what should be per diem: you get this many words today, make do. Would it change everything? I have words, therefore I am.
Bad judgment. Walking instead of standing still and waiting for the bus. It passes me by. The next one is a wait. Deciding on the subway instead of a connecting bus, miss the train and wait on the hot crowded platform for another one. Late and sweaty by the time I get to work, 7:15 am and already the morning full of wrong decisions. Where can this go, I wonder, and in a few hours I'm reminded, my yesterday back in my face, all my bad judgment of yesterday (when I thought it was good), vomited back in my face.
I fear I may be getting too far behind. You know that feeling, like the Woman in the Dune, keep shoveling sand out of your humble abode at the bottom of the sand pit, but every day and night the sand slips in, first just getting in between your toes, then before you know it, you can't see your knees anymore. Pretty soon you're immobilized, pretty soon you're drowning in it. I can feel it, a prickling on the back of my neck, something always on the back burner, a bubble floating over my consciousness. Never fully in the clear.
The blue and white van came on time this morning. A straight shot to Astoria beneath the triboro bridge, wrapped Christo fashion in shades of pink and yellow. A view of the river, up a flight of stairs (half a flight, turn, another half), digital photos, a beautiful cat, hopping man and lovely wife, some conversation over coffee and home again. Back on the bus up to Kips Bay, take in a movie (Little Miss Sunshine, I recommend it, very funny, very timely), walk home just as the rain begins. Summer isn't over yet, thankfully, a few more long days.
Jennie this month is killing me. Between the heat and working too much and mental fatigue, I can't form a paragraph worth 100 words, can't conceptualize to save my life. But I started, and I won't let it pass without finishing, but I commend you for your enthusiasm, urge you to continue in your endeavors, in every way, personal, scholastic, professional. I have every faith in you, believe in you unequivocally, unconditionally. Want to give you advice, but you have to do it your way, like I did mine. Don't make the same mistakes I did. Or do. Either way.
I tried to get to work early today. It was lighted, didn't feel too humid yet, so I decided to walk. So much construction in this booming city, so many detours. Sidewalk closed on 23rd street, 34th street, much of 1st avenue. Walked up 2nd to 3rd, what do I do about breakfast? Humid still, even in the waning days of August, summer soon slipping away into memory. Hazy sky, a breath too far for catching. Finally get there (very sweaty), and for what? The usual nonsense, maybe even a little more. Eyes for reading, not windows to anybody's soul.
Days go by. Summer days drifted from June to August, suddenly we awaken on a Sunday morning, notice August is nearly gone. No longer wondering how it happened, now just trying to keep up, trying not to get buried by the avalanche of time, of hours and days passing, try not to get sucked into the whirlpool of its momentum, try not to let it/yourself spin out of control, don't be distracted by colored lights and shiny objects, try to keep your eyes on the big picture, strive for perfection, even if it is your own personal Moby Dick.
Because it's Wednesday in August, this is what I have on my desk this morning: a half-eaten fruit salad of cantaloupe (very good this summer), two small bananas, a white peach, and strawberries. In a variety of white and brown plastic bags surrounding me are: half of a pound of yellow and red cherries; a pint of local strawberries, a cucumber, curly leaf lettuce, 4 white peaches, 6 yellow peaches, and something I haven't tried yet and am looking forward to in that way that I look forward to fresh, local produce: white donut peaches. I'll let you know.
On Thursdays in August I have a mountain of not-yet-ripe peaches. From Wednesday's market on Second Avenue. I know they're supposed to be ripe when you buy them, but it's nearly impossible, and this is better: I can control their ripening and eat at will. Sometimes that means a few days without a peach, but if I time everything right, supplement with a few peaches from the Sunday market, that's what I have to do, to keep the peach juice flowing in summer. It's my right, my privilege of living where you can actually get a good peach.
It's Friday, the last Friday in August. I look for evidence, inevitably. What is there? A long-ago tropical paradise, some photographs, and what? I stand at the bus stop in the gloomy early morning rain, try not to be discouraged, try not to think of my insignificance in the grander scheme of things. The building across the street progresses, doubled in height from mid- summer. The bus comes finally, distracts me from my thoughts. I treat myself to a Friday breakfast fruit smoothie from the cart on 52nd street, for a moment all is right, for a moment summer remains.
Like a Kodak moment, I can see my brother getting out of the silver VW in the carport, wearing brown corduroys and a button-up shirt, covered shoes, carrying a backpack over one shoulder. It happened like that, so quickly, then it was over. His college days, lasting one semester at the most, maybe even less. He tried, for a while. Nowadays maybe he'd have a diagnosis, dyslexia, ADD or some other acronym. But not in those olden days, back of the class, a little help from his friends, maybe. Now he works two full time jobs, no reading involved.
It would've been a Sunday, and most likely this is what I'd be doing: get up, make one cup of coffee and one cup of tea, turn on the Sunday morning show, the one with the trumpet, maybe check email at the same time (although I try to avoid multi-tasking on Sundays), eat some whole grain toast with butter, listen to Wait Wait Don't Tell Me at 11:00. If it was nice out, go to the park to read, if it was rainy, and most likely it was rainy that Sunday, stay home, try not to think of tomorrow.
I can still hear her voice, but wonder what I'd say to her. How would we talk to each other, still antagonistic after all these years? Would she offer me advice, would I share anything with her? Tell her my problems, my
? It's hard to imagine, being un-orphaned, at this age. A hard woman, would she have softened with her grandchildren, my sister wondered. Would she have mellowed with age? Would her frown have softened into a smile, would she be open to a hug, would she ever say those words? It's all guesswork now, but I'm guessing, no.
Clearly I did not make it. My goal to mail a birthday present in time for the birthday, obviously failed, when the birthday is today and the box still sits beside me. All good intentions. Just underestimation of time, as always, philosophically and literally. But I thought about it a long time, bought presents here and there, thought I could make it, the way she always does mine. But those songs. 20 turned to 40 and then 100, the sifting through and eliminating, it took me weeks to get close to what I wanted, and even then, it wasn't enough.
There's an inner terror, a feeling from watching movies with bombed out buildings, cities burning, troops invading, people fleeing. Some deep recognition, a previous life, hopefully, not a future one. Because we have not known this here, on this land (is our land), we remain uninvaded, essentially, safe, hopeful. But the chaos, the sense of displacement is immediate, sits just under the skin, acknowledges this time we live, wants to bury its head. There are reminders everywhere, there are warnings and omens, but justice, and government, are blind. It's illusion, their own private magic show, smoke and mirrors, and tv.
It was a long week, a long month, ending with wind and rain and fall-like temperatures. Kate disagrees of course, but I was waiting for no one to return, no exotic destinations, no movement really, of anyone I knew, in the month of August. From heatwave to chill, from Astoria to the East Village, small steps forward. Mostly it was midtown for me, from 6:30am rides on the subway to twilight rides home. All fluorescent lights in between. No contact with friends, hardly speaking, avoidance on my part, a long, work-filled, tired-eyed month for me. Goodbye August.
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