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I still have this power

On February 5, I wrote that two authors, Ward Just & George Steiner, died while I was reading their books. It happened again - Eavan Boland died on Monday, the same day I finished her book about being/becoming a poet. I never loved her work but I'm sorry I killed her. 


I once randomly mentioned to Johnny that Kitty Wells had been married for something like 75 years, & her husband's obituary showed up that day. 



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A puzzle

This is a jigsaw puzzle my friend upstate is doing. Isn't it glorious? I want to live there. 

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Monday Quote

Investigate what is, and not what pleases. 

~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


It's kind of shooting fish in a barrel to point that out in the day of "inject bleach," isn't it? 


Horrible expression. 


Isn't there another image for easy as pie? 



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The House

I spent time this morning looking for pictures from the House. I could only find one, which I pulled out to bring to work to scan & illustrate today's post. But now where is it? And now I'm discombobulated & am going to repeat my April 24 post from 2 years ago. April 24 being the most significant date in my life. My life changed permanently on this date in 1971—49 years ago. Read on!


How would my life be different if Beth & I hadn't hitchhiked to Washington D.C. on this date in 1971? If she hadn't woken up with that sweet smile she always woke up with (one of my favorite things about her) & W-- hadn't fallen in love with her and she with him? What if I hadn't been "stuck" spending the day with his friends, who became my lifelong friends? More than friends: the people who shaped my life, who've had my back, who understood what it was like to be in our world together, who I've learned the most profound lessons from, who I trust implicitly & explicitly.


I try to write about The House all the time, but I never manage to actually say what it means to me. "I guess you had to be there," I think people conclude.

Well, today is my day to be sentimental & nostalgic about those times & if I keep trying maybe I'll get it.


I wouldn't know people in South Carolina & Ohio & Ecuador if not for The House. I probably wouldn't know someone who worked at a Ford plant for decades, or who lived off the grid, or who came from such a different background & expectations that we wouldn't have been able to start. But the egalitarianism & kindness of the people who lived or hung out at The House made these connections possible.


I suppose rather than say What It All Meant, especially given that I'm no longer 19 (ahem) & kind of out of the practice of Big Thoughts, I should tell stories about those times & those guys.


Stories like this one: Across the street was The Other House, where "the jocks"—Jason Yoon, Mike Davis, a rolling cast—lived. Why did we call them jocks? I realize it's because every once in a while they would shoot hoops for an hour.


Soon I will get out my notebook from that time—I've been reluctant to read it because I'm afraid it's full of Grand Conclusions & not really about anything. Also, I didn't know in 1971 that this would be central to my entire adult life.


I found a letter Teresa wrote me a few years later: Was it real? she asked. Did we really feel the same & see it the same? She had to check, I think, because while we knew we were profoundly connected but we didn't know how to believe it. It was so unlike anything any of us had ever experienced.


Yes, my sister, it was real. And still is.


2020 Update: One thing I just thought of & have never mentioned, I think, is that until I got to the House, only my family ever called me El. To this day, the only people who spontaneously shorten my name to El are people I become good friends with. I was always El at the House—family from the start.

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In the neighborhood

Tompkins Square Park.

Jim Power has been doing mosaics in the neighborhood for 35 years. I've come upon him at work a couple of times. This is one I never noticed before. 

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In the neighborhood

Yes, we live in apartments the size of an eggplant. Yes, we're stuck inside, when our city life is built around a home base & its extensions—the coffeeshop, the synagogue, the dojo, the gym, the bench where we read & run into our neighbors.


But then I go for an early morning walk in Tompkins Square Park, with no construction noise, no airplanes, almost no people, that blue sky, & I think, New York is my city, New York belongs to me because I am here. 

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Maggie Dubris

I don't know why I haven't written about her & her work more. 


Our origin story: We were both taking Jim Brodey's workshop at the Poetry Project in 1977. At the end of the first or second session, I went up to her & said, "You're the only one who wrote a real poem. Want to be best friends?" I will never know what possessed me to say that. I knew NOTHING about poetry but somehow I knew that's what we had here. 


She said, "How about we go have coffee." So we did, along with this guy Charley, who was bantering like mad, & by the end of the night, without saying anything, we had settled the terms of our friendship, & it's been that way ever since. Now we live in the same building & until last month were in & out of each other's apartments all the time. (My recollection is that we named our building The Ezra Pound because we liked saying we live at the pound.)


Her new book, Brokedown Palace, is brilliant. Buy it!


I just stumbled on this terrific interview in the Believer from a year ago that somehow I never saw till now. But it was Apollinaire's grave at Pere Lachaise—"a modern grave for the first modern poet," I remember thinking at the time, with its jagged & large rock headstone. I think we also went to Mt Parnasse, where we stole flowers from a nearby grave & left them on Baudelaire's grave with a note: From the poets of New York to the Poet of France.

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Monday Quote

The monuments of wit survive the monuments of power. 

~ Francis Bacon


Felt like what I wanted today was a cheerful reminder that the Ozymandiases of the world end up headless in the desert, while the poets are revered forever. 


And then I think of this. Read More 

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Avenue A near Houston. 

I tend to think of the East Village as being sensible, fairly immune to conspiracy. Why would that be the case? We have every stripe of nut here, just like anywhere. It's only my optimism that people can be led to their senses that makes me believe my chosen town is above average. Lately I've heard any number of people declare that it's impossible to know what's going on, who's right, the predicted course of illness—& without missing a beat proceed to declare what's going on, who's right, & what's going to happen. I try not to be discouraged. What are my own stubbornnesses & blind spots?


Giving my neighbors more credit than they deserve, for starters. 

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Birthday boys

Happy birthday, Johnny! Sunset Strip today. Happy birthday, Johnny Jr - Lefty is a year old today. Two crazy kids. My life would be more serene but less thrilling without them. 

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In the neighborhood

On Allen Street near Delancey.

I've been taking walks very early in the morning, usually out the door around 6:30, no later than 7. My favorite direction is south & east, where the Lower East Side still has a bit of grit. Very few people & we look at each other in wonder. The last survivors. Yesterday (in SoHo) a well-dressed & non-masked older woman veered towards me, but usually the women notice their surroundings, while the men—like always—expect everyone else to get out of their way. I may be restricted, you can sense them feeling, but I still deserve more room than YOU. One NYC pleasure is meeting one's neighbors when there's a crisis—a blackout, a blizzard. This time around we are largely deprived of that, though I did have a brief conversation just now with a young woman with a laundry cart about open laundromats. Someone else from the neighborhood that I've known by sight for ages jumped in, & for a minute it was my New York—friendly, funny, helpful, with all the time in the world to chat.

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Some strange & wonderful films

A screen grab from one of the 5 short films that comprise this exhibition. 

At first I thought, I have to watch these films—excuse me, digitally kinetic paintings—again when I'm high. And then I realized I didn't need to, they transported me on their own. 


Julian Semilian is a filmmaker, poet, & translater who teaches in North Carolina, one of the many Romanian artists I've met through Andrei Codrescu, all of whom are brilliant.


I don't have the language to talk about these so I say: watch & feel the magic. 

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Monday Quote

The truth of art keeps science from becoming inhuman, and the truth of science keeps art from becoming ridiculous.
~ Raymond Chandler


Balance, observation, fairness. 


The truth of restriction keeps us from sleeping, & the truth of sleep keeps us from going round the bend. 

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Buks R 4 Loosers

What can I say? This photo is from a couple years ago. Instead of cleaning my house, I've been deleting photos from my phone. 



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It's spring, it's spring, it's spring! 

September 9


"In the dawn, armed with a burning patience, we shall enter the splendid Cities." —Rimbaud


Purgatory wasn't cooked up until the 12th century. Before that, it was Heaven or Hell, me hearties. People didn't get baptized till right before they died, because if you sinned after baptism, oops, straight to Hell.


"Someone stole your bag while you were in the john.

You didn't say you wanted me to keep an eye on it"


         George Eliot said: "It is never too late to be what you might have been."


I feel ready for whatever comes next.

Especially if it's lunch.


"Till human voices wake us, and we drown"

I sleep I sleep & still I drown


did you place yourself between me & the poem?


the poets who don't surf

lie broken in the backwash


  Veblen counted devout observances as one of the four occupations,

together with government, sports and war,

that the leisure class deems appropriate to its magnificence.


"I owe my superiority

to the fact

that I have

no heart."

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My dogged cat

Lefty at work.

Lefty's self-appointed job is to fish the wire strainer out of the sink. Sometimes he also goes after a toy mouse or a scrap of plastic that I throw in there for him. He gets right at it when he hears that strainer rattling. If cats sweat, surely that's what he's doing. I don't know that he'd be as avid & active if there was a mouse to be caught. Then he hides the strainer, usually under my chair, until I toss it back in the sink. 

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Long line

When I went by Key Food at 5 p.m. yesterday, the line was 20 people long, all the way down the block to 3rd Street, with plenty of room between each shopper. They seemed patient, resigned I guess. I skipped the line by going this morning at 6:30 for Old People Hour. There was plenty of everything but I forgot to get cereal for Johnny & the only thing I laid in for Passover was matzoh. The store was crowded. I guess as more bodegas close, people will be dashing into the supermarkets for a quart of milk or a pint of ice cream. 

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Monday Quote

You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.
~ John Bunyan


And that's what makes it easy to follow the strictures. Keeping away from others is the easiest thing we can do for others, we who are not frontline workers. What we can do is be careful & be cheerful. When a good friend died, beloved of many, his widow said, I'm just waiting for someone to say they feel worse than I do. We who are safe & healthy have to stay in line behind the widows.

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I want to wake up

We've been spending time on the roof—a safe way to get outside. I went up at 7 last night to clap & hear the clapping, & to see if there were lights on in the buildings around me (plenty). Someone boomed out Frank Sinatra singing "New York, New York," the version the Yankees play when they win. This city that never sleeps at night is uneasy in its insomnia & nightmares. I almost can't remember what it's like to shake hands or hug or talk to a hostess about getting seated or changing in the locker room with a bunch of karatekas. We are suspended in a surreal city, right through the very heart of it. 

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Are you listening

The "blood harmonies" of Bill & Earl Bollick get me every time.

Woke up today reluctant to go out (I go every day to my office, three unpeopled blocks from my house). There were five cop cars, lights on, pulled up haphazardly up the block between 3rd & 4th, & a guy I know from the bodega said there'd just been a gunshot on 2nd Street. So it felt ominous.


Everyone I know seems to be taking an occasional day or two to cower, then to get back to yoga, karate, sewing masks, whatever they do to cope & stay the course.


I wrote this yesterday:


Are you listening



Are you listening

to the Blue Sky Boys right this minute?


If so, is it "Asleep in the Briny Deep"

& are you crying? 


If not, do you really have anything

else to do with your life?

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Not all sweetness & light

I'd be lying if I said I didn't have moments of fear, like when I saw this ambulance across the street. I dreamed last night of an unrecognizable New York, full of muggers' alleys & whitecapped rivers. I carry on & those moments are small. But they're real & they keep me washing like Lady Macbeth. "Wash your hands, put on your nightgown; look not so pale."

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