I guess self-improvement with a roommate can only go so far. At least that's what I imagine is the reason I saw this abandoned on 3rd St early this morning.
Of the 10 people in this picture that I knew when it was taken, I have seen or spoken with more than half recently. They are some of my oldest & closest friends. I love to look at us then & think about how much more beautiful we are now, with the richness of our lives building our faces & characters & friendships.
Time Wasn't Linear
I have never been disappointed
in anyone who was part of the House
it was formative
how I knew the world
We arrived & were enlightened
— just like that! —
then spent the next 50 years
though we always acted
the big bang of understanding
as we reassemble the shards
We're from Syracuse & Spartanburg,
Bridgeport & Sioux Falls,
Alabama, Ohio & Tennessee
but our true homeland is The House
Despite the catastrophic end of the zucchini, I am (overly) excited about our tomato. How do people get buckets full? We so hope to get one. This one. The only one.
A farmer's life is difficult & tragic.
However, I bought the whole Harvard classics in 71 volumes for Kindle for $1.99. I would be surprised if I read a word of it—everything from Ben Franklin to Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson by way of Machiavelli, Locke, Pasteur, English poetry, Darwin, et hundreds al—but it was irresistible.
Last night I finally felt OK about this summer. Despite the anxieties & restrictions, it seemed like there was nothing I wanted more than to bask on the roof, fret over our one tiny tomato (after giving up on the zucchini, which got gnawed to the nub) & talk casually/seriously with my best friend. Night after night.
It feels like the 1970s (or even older — from summer vacation as a kid), when I had all the time in the world, no place I had to be & nothing I had to do, & couldn't afford it if I wanted to do something else. Just waiting for whatever might happen & it was always interesting at least, an adventure at best. I'm beginning to reclaim the wide-open feeling of waking up & having the whole day to myself. I thought, this might turn out to be a wonderful summer, despite everything.
Also, we saw fireflies up on the roof.
There's a hydra effect when it comes to reading that I'm sure most readers can relate to: cut the head off one book and two or more take its place on your to-read list. The ungraspable infinity of literature makes choosing the next book more important than we may realize.
~ George Salis in an interview about his first novel
George Salis is a young author & publisher, who I first met because he's a fan of my husband, Johnny Stanton. Check him out & I'm sure you, too, will fall under his spell.
The first sentence is absolutely true. The second, probably but dauntingly true.
It's so hot that walking 3 blocks feels like too much so am I really going to haul my bones over to the West Side (a mile or more!) to try to see the stupid comet? When I want to lie bathed in a/c reading the dignified gossip of Diana Athill? Even knowing that if I don't see it TONIGHT*, I won't get a chance again for 6,800 years isn't stiffening my resolve. I have suffered no repercussions from having missed Hale-Bopp in 1996. As for Halley's in 1986, we did go to the Rockaways, about which you can read in my story, published in Transfer a year or so later, "Me Turtle Be Dead." Is one comet enough for a lifetime? All that distance & silence. I want to be small not enormous I think.
* Apparently we have another week or 2, the deadline isn't tonight. So it ain't gonna be tonight!
My Cat Buster
Buster curling on himself
a disappearing wisp
tomorrow he'll die
Buster still as loving
wanting my hand as he goes
Buster the large-souled kindness
Buster the nonjudgmental
Buster the beloved
I carried him in my arms
wrapped in a towel
he couldn't walk
put him in the carrier
& let him bang against me
it was warm out & sunny
to the sun
he had a kitten
love for fresh
air & adventure
& then he looked at me
he stared in my eyes
& we told each other it was OK,
that we were grateful for love & care
that I was his & he was mine
& the rest didn't matter.
He stared at me: Will you let me go?
I don't want to
but there's no body left
to hold his love.
Buster leaves on his own terms
He decided how it was to be
His body threw him into spasm
& he was gone
this will be 20 years ago
& 100 years ago & I will
Buster is in my heart
I call for him though I know he's not there
I look on his chair & at his dish
my hand rolls to his spot
his smile in the sunshine
despite the hard work of dying
to take every bit of life
& all I did was give him treats &
all he did was love me
& show me
how to be with him
Buster the purringest cat
Buster the accepting
Buster who loved me
it's lonesome in our house
[[[not sure this is ready but I need to get it away from me]]]
Very consistently these days, the people who have it the hardest refer to themselves as lucky (or "very, very lucky") & those who have it the easiest complain the most (& often behave the most, ah, individualistically). Two of many typical examples:
= A woman I know with 3 young children, one of whom has special needs, tells me how fortunate she is because she has access to her ex-husband's pool during this heatwave. What she'll do when her childcare runs out next month, she doesn't know, but she's grateful for it now.
= Contrast that with another woman I know who sobbed because she had to moderate her exercise routine. She lives in an area of parks & lakes, has gone on overnights to outdoor areas, & has treadmills & the like in her house. But all she could talk about was how deprived she is. She has even acted on her privilege of ignoring the virus to vacation in the Caribbean.
One thing that has helped here in New York City is that it's close to impossible to be solipsistic. You have to share: transportation, buildings, sidewalks, parks. You don't get to park where you want & drive everywhere without seeing your neighbors. We are used to being part of a commons. That's also in part because we have a long tradition of strong local/state government. I can't say which comes first but we are, I think, more used to taking others (many others) into account. It's clear to us that a "risk I'm willing to take" affects a lot of people. For people outside of small towns or large cities, a sacrifice for the common good is more abstract.
One outcome is that New York State, after a horrendous start, has brought our C19 rate down to European levels. We're one of a handful of states, most in the Northeast, with dropping or stable numbers.
People live where & how they live & I don't mean this critically as much as I've been trying to understand why I've been so peeved lately. Honestly, I feel like I already live close to the bone (by my choice! no regrets!) — but it's hard to give up things like anticipating trips or browsing at the library, especially when a lot of people I know are giving up so much less & griping so much more. I feel like I'm saying "saltines for dinner? yay!" & they're turning up their noses at "steak again." It's a feeling not a fact, because I AM incredibly lucky & really almost not bitching, but I guess I don't want to hear it from them.
A few minutes ago my eye was caught by a book on my shelves that I'm quite sure has sat there for 25 years unopened, even though it's a topic that interests me. The book: Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age by Modris Eksteins, published in 1990. Why have I never read it? I wondered, & pulled it off the shelf to put in the to-read-next pile. The bookmark has a phone number in Johnny's handwriting so it must have been Johnny's not mine.
One minute later, I got an email from Amazon suggesting I might be interested in that very same book.
How is this possible? Did I fall asleep & wake up with a tracker implanted? It's not a recent book & I haven't looked at any WWI books lately.
Should I be freaked out?
It's 200° out, at least, so every time I wiggle, I practically have a heat stroke. But I managed to get a new battery for my phone (Simple Mac, they're the best!) & run into the lively Sheila R, who spends time in my old Maine stomping grounds, & say hi to the guys at B&H, & wash my hair, & & &. I can't really make that sound like a very active day, can I? I think I went to the store but that may have been yesterday. Maybe we'll walk over to the west side tonight & try to spot the coment. Neowise. I wish it had a better name.
Worry does not empty today of its sorrow, it empties tomorrow of its strength.
~ Corrie Ten Boom
Maybe because it's 98°, maybe because we're into Week 19—four full months—of lockdown, maybe because I don't have a car or a way to get out of town & am jealous that so many people I know outside of New York City have entirely or largely resumed their normal lives, maybe because I feel the summer slipping away even though it's only mid-July, maybe because I finished a couple of projects already that I thought I'd be immersed in for another month or two, or maybe—well, I've run out of steam on the depressing possibilities, but I'm the Queen of Lethargia at the moment. Perhaps I'll return to my ice cream habit of a month ago. Nah, I'm even tired of ice cream, & you know what they say, a person who is tired of ice cream is tired of life. I'll be fine tomorrow, I'm sure, more stirred, less stir-crazy.
I recommend this YouTube tour of the Lower East Side conducted by the Tenement Museum, called "How to Build a Neighborhood: An Architectural Exploration of the Lower East Side."
They covered six building, some old, some new, some both, some commercial & this one (photo), a Federal-style rowhouse dating from 1830s. Most of these were torn down to build tenements, which could house more workers, and many of those were eventually replaced by high rises and projects.
Who knows, if New York ever fails, maybe one day we'll have homes like these again.
I've been disgruntled that so many people don't believe in the pandemic. My friend said if they don't know anyone who's died, or maybe even anyone who's been sick, it's theoretical. And I raged that you shouldn't have to have imagination to believe what's going on around you even if it's not happening to you personally.
That was before the fiend ate our two prize zukes right off their stems (stalks?). All of a sudden the things people had been telling me ("all we got was one raspberry") or I'd been reading (such as the devastating yearly plague of locusts in Giants in the Earth, the wonderful book about Norwegian immigrants to South Dakota that I've been reading nightly on the roof) struck me as real. Up till now I just nodded: what did pests have to do with CityGirl Nauen?
Will it make me less grouchy about Covid deniers? Probably not.
Also, I bought some spray that's supposed to repel not just squirrels but deer, rabbits, raccoons, porcupines & armadillos (& some critters I don't know what they are).
We have an invader. He murdered my beloved zucchini. I feel so sad. He may as well have crawled through the screen & eaten half my cat. Why? Why me? I'm not even joking. Squirrels are such assholes.
Apparently I wasn't supposed to get attached to my garden.
The love of liberty is the love of others; the love of power is the love of ourselves.
~ William Hazlitt
Another quote I don't need to gloss, right?
I can't say a lot but I have a solid draft of a new poem, called, at least for now, "One Year." It started out 100 pages & now is down to 60. There's still some to fix or cut & some basic decisions about form but for the moment I'm basking. Here's how it starts:
Some speak of Rome & some of Paris
I speak of Sioux Falls & Spain
without the face I loved when young
nowhere is beautiful
there is no wall left to this village
thunder & rain
wet with wine
tomorrow we plow to the sea
What made it a good day? Surprises! I'd forgotten that the unexpected really perks things up. First my friend Barbara called—I'm on my bike at 2nd Av & 7th St, can you come out? I was down the block in 30 seconds & we not only chatted for an hour, it wasn't even about current events. Then my friend Ashley called & we got caught up, with plenty laughs. And my darling June's flute arrived so we met for a chaste lesson. I am self-taught & it's been 30 years or more since I picked up a flute. As soon as I did, I remembered that I never actually learned what ALL the keys do. So I showed her how to hold it & told her to fool around & she'd figure out a lot. Also, no rain. All of which is the kind of day I like at any time, but in these months, even more.
For some reason, I've been watching episodes of What's My Line? from the 1950s & 60s. You see the show change—the poet Louis Untermeyer was a panelist at the start, very awkwardly making semi-literary jokes, for example. Eventually the panelists got much better about getting on with things. It's fascinating to see the stars of the day, many of whom I had to look up: Fred Allen, Hal Block, Robert Q Lewis, Peter Lind Hayes, Susan Oakland. Richard Kollmar (Dorothy Kilgallen's husband). It was very cozy. For example, Bennett Cerf recused himself from one of the celebrity guests (where the panelists were blindfolded) when he thought he knew who it was, & confirmed by asking if they would be having lunch the next day. They all seemed to know & socialize, they all wore fancy dress, & in a way it was the original show about nothing. It wasn't exactly sophisticated or funny but it's such a time capsule of the times: the clothes, the manners, the assumptions. The big surprise occupation pretty often was a woman in a "man's" job—mayor, justice of the peace, barber—& they always guessed much lowlier jobs.
Anyone who knows me knows I'm not much of a Nature Girl. Camping? One recoils in horror. But this summer I've become the queen of sunrise (5:32) & sunset (8:29) (giving us 3 fewer minutes of daylight today than yesterday). The rejuvenating parts of my day are outdoors. I've never spent as much time on the roof as I have in 2020. I go up soon after sunrise, for an hour or 2, till the sun rises over the Village View apartment & makes it too hot & bright. I go up again around 6 in the afternoon, when the sun is over the yardarm (OK, I don't know what that means, but it sounds nice & outdoorsy, yeah?). I have my red houdah & books. I bask, give the finger to the helicopters, & relax.
Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain't going away.
~ Elvis Presley
Great line—Elvis, really? According to Father Google, yeah. I think freedom is the same way. No matter how oppressed people are, at some point they revolt. Maybe because they have nothing to lose, maybe they suddenly have had enough, who knows. Sleepy day, if I have further thoughts I'll have to add 'em later. I invite my loyal reader(s?!?) to explicate...
It was a summer day like they always were. We dragged ourselves through the hot streets to Tibor de Nagy, to see their happy new show of Old Friends (John Ashbery, Biala, Nell Blaine, Joe Brainard, Rudy Burckhardt, Donald Evans, Jane Freilicher, Shirley Jaffe, Jess (Collins), Louisa Matthíasdóttir, Larry Rivers, Louis Stettner, Neil Welliver). One work each & a pleasure they were. Catching up with Andy & Liz was great too.
Then we sat in the park & started (so late!) our summer read: The Aeneid. We haven't decided among translations of Dryden, Fitzgerald, & Fagles. Or is that a law firm? I also have a dual-language edition that is more like a crib than a translation, but Johnny, once a Latin scholar, will no longer countenance it. The first conversation we ever had was an argument about Latin pronunciation—my public school Latin vs his Catholic school Latin.
The first summer day of 2020 that was like our 30+ years of summer days. How could I be happier?