Monday, June 29, 2009


The end of the weekend ended
as most of my recent weekends
have been ending—with a sense
there was something I’d forgotten
or someone to see about something.

But after reading Sam’s poems,
which are similar to but better
than poems I’d formerly written,
the feeling went via confirmation
of the identical feeling in another:

That last winter was the best winter,
parties at an old house far superior
to the parties currently being thrown,
missing a girl on a goddamned mountain,
and all of one’s best friends leaving.

To which I say: All of one’s best friends
are always leaving, a sense of falling
suspended in mid-air, or the bottom
always dropping to pace the falling.
same as the way that I was feeling

at the wedding the day before:
I was arriving and had arrived,
dancing and having had danced,
the people across the wide lawn
receding as I paced toward them.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Liberty & Fountain

In honor of Summer Fridays (the first of which I might take today, if I can get my work done), here's a poem I wrote a few years back and which I've always been kind of proud of. Dig it. (And forgive the small type; I had to shrink the font size to make the line breaks appear correctly.)

Liberty & Fountain

Yes, we sat and stood at the curb and corner of
Liberty & Fountain, where we’d walked to and ridden buses to
from first Jamaica and earlier Astoria and before Roosevelt Island
It’s Dutch. It’s gotta be Dutch. Roosevelt / Gansevoort
Over the Queensboro Bridge from the city, whose definition grew bigger
as we moved to and from different boroughs.

Yeah, we’re at the corner of Fountain & Liberty we kept saying,
pleased with ourselves for having seen so much unseen
by our fellow hipsters, tourists all, I disdained them.
You were more forgiving.

From the sculpture park where we’d seen art and children saw toys
I studied the cartoon deer lawn statue and we discussed what
the pedestals meant, the junk embedded, the geologic strata –
then the Filipino girl ran up and climbed up and she
rode that cartoon deer with as much if not more intent
than what we’d just brought to bear on What does this piece mean?

I straightened up and thought, well
Of course that’s what it means. Deer are for riding,

So we took the Q something bus on out to where the 7 rushed and rucked
overhead, to where we stood under overpass and
stood forever waiting for the Q60. White faces dropped off
and the bus filled and we felt self-conscious
I don’t know why. I don’t know why that should be so.
But it was so even though I wished it wasn’t. Wish it weren’t.
A cop car slides suspiciously up: Y’all need to get outta here
in a gravel-rough granite-deep voice, or at least that’s how I kept saying it
to lighten the mood.

You and I both laughed but what is laughing but
making loud noises to scare off whatever’s bad out there.
The corner of Fountain & Liberty. Liberty between Fountain & Logan, really.
We kept on saying that. You kept on
laughing and I kept on making you laugh. I was trying.

I was trying to know who Rufus King was,
who had the house that was the reason for the park
where the wedding photos were being taken in Jamaica,
but I didn’t have that information in my mind. Of the information I did have
there was one item which told me I liked parks like Rufus King’s
whoever he was
parks with trees with big tall trunks and lots of rich green leaves
and benches like would not look out-of-place in Savannah.
Broad green lawns and black babies, barbecue
and a sort of blent mist, gauzy, that hung among the upper branches
and seemed a sort of benediction.

We couldn’t stay long, though. We had a plane to catch.
We had a train to catch. We caught the Q8 instead,

and headed back west toward Brooklyn, following our progress
on a bus that filled with only black faces on an MTA map
that didn’t much correlate to reality, but worked alright enough.
Growing up, the idea grows that not much correlates. Nothing’s to scale.

You said you missed John as it was getting late
at the corner of Liberty & Fountain, or more really
Liberty between Fountain & Logan. You laughed
and missed John. Or more really you missed John in between laughing.
Or you laughed in between missing John. Which is the way
I’m beginning to believe life & living just are.

When the Q12 did finally come you were cold, and you cursed air-conditioning.
I agreed. The bus filled up with black faces and you were cold
and hungry. I pressed up against you and once sat forward
You pulled me back and said stay there.
I stayed there.

That bus ride was by far the longest, and when we made Prospect Park
it was as if we’d been in the hinterlands, East New York &
Woodside & Ozone Park, Tibet to Kathmandu, &
that girl you worked with you told me about with the tattoo of an ampersand.

The park opened up like the mouth of a whale made of forest.
We passed its cold marble teeth gleaming dully in the half-moon
The moon in the arms of the sun
and were inside this gigantic green thing, breathing.
You and I were breathing and so was the park and
so was the lake with the lights that brought to my mind
Lake Hamilton in Arkansas, and college nights spent in the dark
on the lake with boats moored and cold beer,
the boats tied together and the lights across the lake
with the engines off and the sound of water, some slipping naked into the dark water,
and so was the bullfrog that was in the lake,
he was breathing too.

We walked along the paths of the park, lit by lovely lamplight
and talked and I told you to breathe in the riot of greenery.
You did so and I did so, us both breathing like a couple
of bullfrogs, struck stupid by art.
The rushes in the lake were six feet high if they were an inch.
And nothing got us.

When we left the park, the townhouses were lit by lamplight or candlelight.
Let’s say the latter.
They were three or four stories tall and for all
I knew this was Paris. Some magic come down from
the heavens to live on Earth. The air perfumed, permeated
with June, finally, in this year of too-long winter
and overmuch rain. But overmuch rain makes the greenery grow
thick & pungent, and that is heavy worth it.
The breathing-in bears out that this is heavy worth it,
regardless of the misting-up and the missing.

For there’s the laughing at Liberty & Fountain, near Logan,
and all of the cupcakes and all of the barbecue and the beer,
all of it, tired legs in the morning and maybe missing, too,
but deep sweet sleep before and summer hours again next Friday.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Rain, Rain, Get Lost

Lately, it seems that just about everyone in New York City—myself included—has been complaining about the never-ending rainfall we’ve been having. But how bad is it, really? I decided to do some digging and find out. The following data comes from the National Weather Service Forecast Office, and covers from 1869 to present, with measurements taken in Central Park*. Here are the soggy facts:

The city has had 5.32 inches of rain thus far this month (we had 5.17 inches in all of May). Average June precipitation is 3.84 inches—so, with 12 more days to go this month, I’d say we’re going to beat that by a mile. (Average May precipitation is 4.69 inches, so we topped that, too.)

Q. What was the wettest May ever?
A. In 1989, 10.24 inches fell on the city during the month of May.

Q. What about the wettest June?
A. Our wettest June ever was actually quite recent, in 2003, when we received 10.27 inches. That was the wettest June in 100 years, in fact, since 1903.

Q. How about the wettest 24 hours ever in the city?
A. That would be over October 8 and 9 in, again, a well-soaked year—1903. A staggering 11.17 inches fell from the skies in that 24-hour period … that’s double what we’ve had throughout the past 17 days of June!

Q. So which way is this trending? Is the city getting wetter or drier?
A. Wetter, or at least it seems to be. Three of the top ten wettest years on record in New York City were in the last decade. Even more impressive, eight of the top ten wettest years were in the past four decades. (All ten have happened since 1903.) The most recent wettest year on record was 2007, at No. 4 on the list. That year the city got 61.70 inches of precipitation.

Q. Are we on track to beat 2007?
A. Not likely. By the end of May in 2007, we’d seen 25.91 inches of precipitation, including an epic 13.05-inch April (remember that storm?). By the end of May this year, the city had only received 15.52 inches of rain—respectable, and worth complaining about, but not looking like a record-breaker.

So that’s the verdict: Contrary to what you might believe, the rain has been much worse, and as recently as 2007. And yet....

(In the middle of writing this, I saw that the Times beat me to it. Oh well.)

* Final fun fact: From December 1868 to December 31, 1919, weather measurement for the city was conducted in Central Park, at the Arsenal Building on 5th Ave between 63rd and 64th streets. But on January 1, 1920, measurement moved to the Belvedere Castle Transverse Road, near 79th and 81st streets, where it remains today.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


This gorgeous, knockout excerpt from the last chapter (the Molly Bloom chapter) of Ulysses, by James Joyce, showed up in my co-worker's inbox yesterday, in the daily Writer's Almanac email. Get a little sensuousness up in you, how 'bout:
"O and the sea the sea crimson sometimes like fire and the glorious sunsets and the figtrees in the Alameda gardens yes and all the queer little streets and pink and blue and yellow houses and the rosegardens and the jessamine and geraniums and cactuses and Gibraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes."

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Mr. Obama Goes to Cairo

This morning I woke to the calm, measured tones of President Obama giving a speech addressed to “the Muslim world” at Cairo University in Egypt. It was a good way to wake up. I wasn’t able to listen to the whole speech this morning, as I had to get ready to go to work. But I just now, at lunch, read the entire speech, which can be found here; I highly recommend that everyone give it a look.

The speech is pure genius. Its purpose was, as the president said, “to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition.”

If the previous administration’s mission statement was, “You are either with us or against us,” here the president was laying out a new mission statement for the U.S. and the Muslim world, one that Obama has been preaching for many years now: We are all in this together. In his keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, Obama—then a state senator from Illinois, and a candidate for the U.S. Senate—eloquently expressed this view as it related to Americans. He said:
“The pundits like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue States: red states for Republicans, blue states for Democrats. But I've got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states. We coach little league in the blue states and, yes, we've got some gay friends in the red states. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq, and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America. In the end, that's what this election is about. Do we participate in a politics of cynicism, or do we participate in a politics of hope?”
What Obama was advocating today at Cairo University was a politics of hope for the entire world; what Bush and his administration advocated for the past eight years, and what former Vice-President Cheney, along with other outspoken Republicans, continue to advocate today is a politics of fear and cynicism.

The president made his case in part by using a very powerful rhetorical tool when communicating with people of faith: by deploying key passages from that group's chosen holy book—in this case, the Koran. For example, in one part of the speech that dealt with terrorism, Obama noted that, “The Holy Koran teaches that whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind; and whoever saves a person, it is as if he has saved all mankind.”

This rhetorical trick didn’t seem cynical because Obama, of course, has personal experience with Islam. As he said in today’s speech, “Part of this conviction [‘that the interests we share as human beings are more powerful than the forces that drive us apart’] is rooted in my own experience. I am a Christian, but my father came from a Kenyan family that includes generations of Muslims. As a boy, I spent several years in Indonesia and heard the call of the azaan at the break of dawn and the fall of dusk. As a young man, I worked in Chicago communities where many found dignity and peace in their Muslim faith.”

But the finest deployment of scripture came at the end, when Obama quoted from the holy books of all three Abrahamic faiths. He said:
“We have the power to make the world we seek, but only if we have the courage to make a new beginning, keeping in mind what has been written. The Holy Koran tells us, ‘O mankind! We have created you male and a female; and we have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another.’ The Talmud tells us: ‘The whole of the Torah is for the purpose of promoting peace.’ The Holy Bible tells us, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.’ The people of the world can live together in peace. We know that is God's vision. Now, that must be our work here on Earth. Thank you. And may God's peace be upon you."
I agree wholeheartedly. God’s vision is for all people to live together in peace; not for all people to be Christians; not for all nations to be democracies; not for one nation to dominate any other. I think that all men and women of faith—whether Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, or any other—should be able to get behind that sentiment. Provided, that is, that they truly follow and believe in the teachings they claim to.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Facebook and Twitter Are Eating the World; also, Lewis & Clarke

Lately I've noticed something: I'm posting way less to this blog, yet I'm posting way more to Facebook and Twitter (notice the new Twitter feed just to the right of this post; also, you can find me on Twitter here). Which is fine, I suppose, though I get the feeling—at least with Facebook—like I'm working on Maggie's farm, providing Facebook with free content for its advertisers to sell against. Has anyone else out there in TV Land been getting this feeling?

The problem is this: It's so easy to post content to Facebook. On practically every web page one might come across these late days, "Share" is an option (right alongside "Print," "Email this Story," and the like). You click the Share button and a selection of sites on which to share the story pops up; Facebook is always on there, and Blogger never is. So you click the Facebook button and then you're inside Facebook, which provides a few lines of the story, a headline, and even a photo tied to the story in question. Modern science! But it makes me neglect this blog and then, when I return, post self-indulgent junk about how, lord have mercy, I find myself posting on some sites more than others.

Sounds like I'm in need of retooling.

At any rate: In the meantime, here's a link to the links I've been posting on Facebook lately, many of which have some nice discussion from friends of mine under them. A sad substitute, but it will have to do until I figure out some way to quit feeding the Facebook machine. Anyone out there know a blog site that more easily allows you to share or post stories from other sites?

Before I go, though, one quick recommendation from Yr. Faithful Correspondent:

The other night, as I often do before bed, I was listening on my radio to NPR's New Sounds show, which is all over the place in terms of content, but is consistently good and affecting and beautiful. But so the theme for this particular night's broadcast was "new folk," and in the show I heard an amazing, delicate song that bloomed midway out into cacophony before falling back to earth and subsiding. After, I waited to hear who it was, and I'll be damned if it wasn't the band Lewis & Clarke, with whom my good friend Karen has been playing cello as of late. The song is called "Comfort Inn," and it's off Lewis & Clarke's latest album, Blasts of Holy Birth (it came out in 2007, and the gently psychedelic album cover can be seen above). Lewis & Clarke's Myspace page does not have the song, but I found it here on You should absolutely give it a listen, preferably late-ish at night and when you're in a contemplative mood. It's very worth it.

That's all for now, but coming soon to fighting fire with unlit matches (or, hell, maybe Facebook): A discussion of President Obama's stunning, insightful biography Dreams from My Father, which I will shortly be finishing.