New York, New York

With something like ecstasy I am plunging into my second cup of Starbucks coffee, and to be truly New Yorkish, home again, I am insisting on eating a bagel while composing this post, which means I shall have to stop and occasionally wipe poppy seeds and dollops of lox spread off of my trackpad. Some lone poppy seed will probably make its way into the bowels of my laptop, and lounge there indefinitely.

It seems I have a tradition, now, forged secretly and now confirmed, today of all days. After a summer’s committments, the race from concert to concert, and then the inevitable Odysseus-like (though not so heroic) return… the journey through festivals being something like a guided, regimented trip through the underworld … the lures of various Sirens being ignored of scheduling necessity … there is that day (or set of days, a month, sometimes a whole year) when I must reorient myself, get my “real life” legs back. A million dancing deadlines appear in my head, born paradoxically of my sudden, total lack of schedule. (Projects, projects, dreams, desires, total organization fantasies, lives yet unlived!) And at that moment, when I am paralyzed by things to do when I have nothing obvious to do… I always seem to resort to the same process, the same expedient, an act like a dog’s peeing on a hydrant or a pole, declaring territory-time: I go to Starbucks with an old, favorite book, I drink a lot of coffee and I read. I almost force myself to do this, slowly, patiently, “wasting” my newfound time. As I waited in line today for my Grande Drip, I remembered many beautiful occasions when I had done this before: on a stoop of my friend Evelyne’s house in Bloomington, while she dashed around trying to organize the piano department at the beginning of an IU September semester, I read Proust lazily in the sunshine, smelling newcut grass and feeling alive, and she grumbled at me about my freedom; on a boat with my then-friend Zach (these things happen) in the Adirondacks, also reading lovely, irrelevant (?) Proust while Zach prepared frantically for his upcoming lectures; sitting in Cafe Lalo reading something I can’t quite remember several Augusts ago while my friend Carmelle brought me steamed, herbed eggs… reading Susan Sontag guiltily in Starbucks, as I had just satirized her at Marlboro, and being caught by Scott Nickrenz “in the act”… all these memories came to me in a rush. Amazing. Always that same end-of-summer bubble, a million variations of a life theme.

But today’s exactitude pressed in. I chose to read a chapter from “The Pound Era,” by Hugh Kenner, which was an excellent choice, very inspiring: all about the interconnectedness of languages, etymologies, the web of Language (above and beyond any single language), the nodes of meaning in single words or phrases … But meanwhile, as I read snippets of Provencal-esque poetry set in idyllic landscapes–

Wind over the olive trees, ranunculae ordered
By the clear edge of the rocks
The water runs, and the wind scented with pine
And with hay-fields under sun-swath

–I gazed across 93rd street to the gray, looming wall of the opposite building, and my fellow Starbucks denizens seemed to conspire to remind me of the gridded city: a nice, friendly Jewish boy talking on the phone to his girlfriend (perhaps?) about the frog in his throat, saying “what are your problems?,” sharing at length stories of disease, colds, fevers, complaints; then, a very unpleasant woman stranded on the far end of a visit to New York, deeply eager to get out, kvetching endlessly at her poor uncomplaining husband about everything (“this place is so dingy,” she said, nailing it on the head, finding the precise, poetic, even onomatopoeic word); and two men with their iPods and Blackberries discussing business deals, acquisitions, real estate (grrr, more “problems” which require “solutions”); and finally, touchingly, the two elderly men, respectful, shaking with Parkinson’s, who come in day in and day out to play chess. I was thinking, I love this place, but want also to be separate, untouched by it, uncontaminated by the negativity which seemed to radiate here and there, inflamed by coffee and cloudy weather, and presently I came to the following passage in “The Pound Era”:

Nicea moved before me
And the cold grey air troubled her not
For all her naked beauty, bit not the tropic skin…

My “tropic skin,” returned from Vermont/Seattle/North Carolina/etc., slightly in shock from cold grey New York air… I am still lingering in the surreal ending day or two of Marlboro (rainswept, dark, half-built, not civilized) … people leaving the place in all their varied, bizarre ways, at their own times, beginning or ending relationships, packing up impossibly messy cars, flailing at all the recurring farewells of summer camp, and I am still feeling my body as arranged for country life, toned by lots of swimming and hiking up and down the hills, accustomed to sweating in my cot-bed, now finding itself underused, pampered by luxury in my not exactly luxurious apartment… It feels like (as it always, always does at this time of year) my mind is bubbling, and I want to stay in, let the bubble float off for a bit, keep it from hitting anything hard and bursting:

And if I see her not,
no sight is worth the beauty of my thought.
(Si no’us vei, Domna don plus mi cal,
Negus vezer mon bel pensar no val.)

Does any of this make any sense? Staying in my own mind? If that passage is applicable to me, what is my “her”? Unanswerable, today. And so I have turned to the bubble of my blog… Here I can be in the abstract space of my browser window, listening to the airconditioner hum. Let the dogs howl: Bach to practice, bios to send out, recordings to find, schedules to fix, friends to catch up with, groceries to buy, students to teach, people to call, toilet paper to obtain, mice to trap humanely, pianos to tune, suitcases to unpack, failures to apologize for, insurance to arrange, emails to write en masse, and in general things to straighten out, priorities to choose. But I choose none, today, or if I choose one or another, it will be a whim and not a plan, winding and not straight… I want my acts today to be both practical and metaphorical.

Which reminds me of this most wonderful passage from “The Pound Era”:

The great thing to remember is that all poetry was once in the language itself, and still underlies the dry bones of even our dictionaries. Every word, a metaphor, perhaps several degrees deep, still has the power to flash meaning back and forth between apparently divergent and intractable planes of being.

So: my apologies for not blogging for a few weeks. I should be blogging more now, as I attempt to flash meaning back and forth between my Marlboro and “normal” planes… wish me luck!

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  1. Erin
    Posted August 16, 2005 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    Oh, lovely, you’re back and talking about how metaphors are the dessicated husks of poetry!

    Today just got a bit better …

  2. Anonymous
    Posted August 16, 2005 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

    “my apologies” ain’t gonna cut it. The only way you can make this up is by posting twice a day for the next month or so. Trust me, I’ve done the math.
    You may start tomorrow.
    see ya

  3. Anonymous
    Posted August 17, 2005 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    Good to have you back online. Enjoy your luxuriant freedom–the thought of your reading Kenner in Starbucks is lovely. It’s a gorgeous day in Oberlin. Wish you were here.


  4. daedelus found
    Posted August 18, 2005 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    Your NYC reverie (and Pound) echoed this poem in my mind’s ear…from another new yorker who liked to pause and linger and compile. I love how her eye appropriates everything.

    I bet David loves the Kenner work you’re reading…he would. An Oberlin rendezvous would be grand, eh?


    Beach Glass — Amy Clampitt 

    While you walk the water’s edge,
    turning over concepts
    I can’t envision, the honking buoy
    serves notice that at any time
    the wind may change,
    the reef-bell clatters
    its treble monotone, deaf as Cassandra
    to any note but warning. The ocean,
    cumbered by no business more urgent
    than keeping open old accounts
    that never balanced,
    goes on shuffling its millenniums
    of quartz, granite, and basalt.
    It behaves
    toward the permutations of novelty—
    driftwood and shipwreck, last night’s
    beer cans, spilt oil, the coughed-up
    residue of plastic—with random
    impartiality, playing catch or tag
    ot touch-last like a terrier,
    turning the same thing over and over,
    over and over. For the ocean, nothing
    is beneath consideration.
    The houses
    of so many mussels and periwinkles
    have been abandoned here, it’s hopeless
    to know which to salvage. Instead
    I keep a lookout for beach glass—
    amber of Budweiser, chrysoprase
    of Almadén and Gallo, lapis
    by way of (no getting around it,
    I’m afraid) Phillips’
    Milk of Magnesia, with now and then a rare
    translucent turquoise or blurred amethyst
    of no known origin.
    The process
    goes on forever: they came from sand,
    they go back to gravel,
    along with treasuries
    of Murano, the buttressed
    astonishments of Chartres,
    which even now are readying
    for being turned over and over as gravely
    and gradually as an intellect
    engaged in the hazardous
    redefinition of structures
    no one has yet looked at.

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