Big City, Little features
writing from the personal vantage by native or adoptive sons of, long-term
transients in, and literary visitors to New York and/or its metropolitan
counterparts elsewhere in the world. Send poetry up to 300 words, prose
from 100 to 500 words to email@example.com,
Re: Big City, Little.
Big City, Little
Arrogance of Windows
see them, i donít see them
on Museum Street
from Sigmund Freud
Eleven North Forty-Ninth Street
Itís more than a long, dark road. Youíre in your car, with everything you need in the glove box, back seat, trunk. Youíve got your smoke, thereís the fog, and some rain, and more fog, and thoughts of searchlights.
Maybe thereís someone beside you--or there will be--for who knows for how long. A guy thing maybe: a city, a woman, warm coffee, more smokes.
Stations drift in and out in the sing-along tease 'til youíve had enough of the night, the absolute black Van Gogh claimed didnít exist. All the tricks, like in a Dylan song, play by the roadside shoulders.
Itís what you want: not exactly lost, not exactly knowing where you are, but full of the importance of being elsewhere, speeding toward.
And so you drive on, grateful for the dashboard, steering wheel in your hands, strings of mileposts, tiny reflectors, whatís left of the white lines, rarities the more traveled, rained on.
Smoke, fog, smudge of light on the
horizon: The City, allegory-big. You on the way, bridge-buzzed, highway-wired,
everything within reach, toward the light, the place where "symbol is
the thing itself."
Despite the knotted rising
And cities too, the feeble
I am an arrogance of windows: NYC.
And Albany, that oneís for you.
My grandmotherís flesh has grown
(Prior publ. Voices over Water
(Four Way Books), a collection by the author.)
i donít see them, the bearded men
(Prior publ. The Six O'Clock News (Wind Publications), a collection by the author.)
Bent iron crosses overshadow dusty
London seemed suited to Freud in its sober, analytic guise: monarchy, Parliament, the stern duty in 1914 and again in 1940 to withstand almost alone threats to all reasonable global civilisation. Freud took refuge here after Hitler invaded Austria in 1938, and died here in September, 1939, two weeks after Britain declared war.
I was one year old and beginning a wartime childhood on the North Sea coast, the surrounding anxieties there being perhaps worse than usual. Only Sigmund would have known, and he was gone. At 17, I became a government clerk near St. Paul's Cathedral. Blitz ruins still lay all around in London, even in 1954.
I passed another fifteen years here among the poetry, art, sex, drink and confusion, and then needed respite. As Freud was my third favourite writer--after Dostoyevsky and Kafka--,I spent time and lots of money on the analyst's couch of one of his disciples: a beautiful, untouchable lady.
When I was sort of cured, I escaped that smothering city--hopefully forever.
Soon after the founding of our nation, a dedicated group of men built an asylum on a plot of land outside the Philadelphia city limits. There, the insane could receive humane treatment, like the calming psychiatric chair invented by Dr. Rush, or perhaps hot baths, or the soon-to-be-outdated leeches. There was support and concern and lessons to be learned: the so-called "moral therapy," indebted, no doubt, to the spiritual teachings of the day.
In time, the city extended around the place, and a stone wall was constructed to contain the wild ones inside, their thoughts as radical and disturbing as the great books burned under Hitler's regime. Then the new generation of physicians erected a large turret, which gave the place the appearance of a prison.
Slowly, there in the West End, an urban ghetto grew, a place of poverty and strife, surrounding the wall. And inside the wall, wealth accumulated, as the rich and near-rich sent their sick ones to be cured, cured of their disturbing thoughts.
A society developed inside the wall, resembling ancient Greece or Rome. Doctors walked through the endless halls and carpeted rooms discussing diagnoses, theories, deteriorations, remissions, discharges. Patients lived there for one, two, three years, getting worse or better, known, known in their depths and inner deaths by the dead themselves.
Then the money expired. New medicines took the place of costly walls, and doctor after doctor fell in battle, until a man in a black suit came and bought them out.
Greece fell, Rome fell. You noticed the walls crumbling a bit. You noticed the sadness in the doctors' faces. You noticed the absence of mind in place of the crazy mind. You noticed the abacus balls, fingered by the moneyed interests.You noticed that the patients went in and went out.
Some say it was like the South during Reconstruction. I say it was the end of light and dark. I say it was the slow dying of the soul. I say the ghetto is everywhere and nowhere.
Big City, Little
After walking to the bridge at Karlova,
We were just about to treat our hunger
for only moments, then again, the
The feed the hunger wall, the waitress
(Prior pub. Trafika
and The Hunger Wall, Grove, 1997)
for Jan Zajic (1950-1969), the second human torch to protest the 1968 Soviet invasion of Prague
There goes the night not knowing
He must have forgiven the debt his
He might have counted as redemption
he must have known were saved at
He believed it is the found wisdom
of an age
Here comes the imitator echoing stolen
saying there goes the wind not knowing
There goes a noun, unpronounced, into obscurity.
(Prior pub. Bomb
and The Hunger Wall, Grove, 1997)
A salvo of cracks every five minutes.
Do the trees suffer
Incorruptible poplars bow their foreheads
Waterfalls of light cascade off the
The tether ball with four icicles
looks like Sputnik.
My neighbor grimaces like a frostbite
An enormous maple by the pond split
"A squirrel will plant fifty times
"Are we worth less than squirrels?"
"For sure, if you ask an oak tree;
A native Czech,
Viktor Tichy lives in Iowa.
Is it like this
-- T.S. Eliot, "The Hollow Men", III
Prague, castled hilltop,
The flag flutters up
I submit to the stones
There should be a bridge here closer
Is it silk or is it wool,
I run my nails
The mouth withheld,
Was it silk or was it wool?
I should have known,
Maybe Iíd know if I touched it again.
Big City, Little
"Well, as Diana Vreeland once said, 'pink is the navy blue of India'."
To her, the comment makes perfect fashion sense. But then, she manages a revival house cinema done up in art deco, so what else could I expect? The pert idioms of late-50's Hollywood, a doyenne of haute couture, and certain dainty starlet who modeled it, are what come off the rack as I'm telling her of how Ram Singh II was expecting a state visit from the Prince of Wales in 1876 and so--in a grand gesture of hospitality (if not good taste)--decreed that the entire city of Jaipur be painted pink.
She's thinking of the movie musical, Funny Face, in which Kay Thompson plays a high-powered executive editor of a fashion magazine loosely patterned after the original Empress Diana and her ready-to-wear ladies-in-waiting at Harper's Bazaar. Well, one scene in particular anyway, in which the actress dramatically unfurls across the floor of the office suite a bolt of pink satin destined to drape every woman in America who stands naked waiting for Miss Prescott to dress her, no--every woman in the world, no--the world itself, including the kitchen sink, as she exhorts, 'THINK PINK!"
How could I tell her then of Ramesh's unglamorous, gap-toothed smile, the stale liquor on his breath, unrosy cheeks on his unfunny, brown face and look of hunger that shone from his eyes, a world apart from Audrey Hepburn's lovelorn gaze lost in a Greenwich Village bookshop or the boulevards of Paree? I'm calling from the East coast; she's on the West. Color coordinates of local time and space clash, twain never meeting, mismatch my new Spring line of thought, which is trending toward blue.
I stand confused (turn left or right?) outside India's--no, all Asia's pre-eminent movie theatre, the "Raj Mandir," whose facade is, I tell her--of course!--a pale shade of pink. Some Bollywood flick has turned out tout Jaipur; women in their after-eight saris, men close-shaven and smelling nice, even the children looking spiffy. Intermission, and as I cross the lobby to leave, the other show starts: to see and be seen posing against the balustrades or seated on banquettes that hug gracefully curved walls like the smart lines of a cocktail dress. He senses my hesitation, but I refuse him the few rupees for a ride back to my hotel in last season's sorry cycle-rickshaw.
He softens me up until I give in to what it would be like to be in his unfashionable shoes peddling down these cold streets, "you know, all pseudo rosy-colored," I relate, "like Audrey Hepburn still extending her pinkie as she's swayed by the that modish philosophy of Empathicalism." One hundred rupees to find out, next day, sightseeing in the Pink City. Spindly piston-legs chug past Tripolia Bazaar, Ram Niwas Garden, the sad zoo near Albert Hall, cool marble cenotaphs of Jaipur's royal family at Gaitor, outside the city gates.
All afternoon he sweats out hope and last night's booze. We take high tea in paper cups standing on the curb below nine hundred pink honeycombed windows as the sun sashays down the runway and makes its turn behind the Palace of the Winds. I pay him more than twice our bargained fare, and for a moment Ramesh swears he sees the chic royal ladies in purdah from Pink City's tonier days discreetly blow him kisses from behind their rouged screens.