Big City, Little

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 editors@nycbigcitylit.com, Re: Big City, Little. 

New York

Paris - Prague
 
 


Big City, Little

New York

Big City, Lit
Nicholas Johnson

An Arrogance of Windows
Jay Chollick

Inventing Nations
D. Nurkse

i see them, i donít see them
Angelo Verga

Clouds on Museum Street
Patrick Henry

Sweetheart from Sigmund Freud
Patrick Henry

One Eleven North Forty-Ninth Street
Victor Schermer
 

Big City, Lit
Nicholas Johnson

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."
 
 

An Arrogance of Windows
Jay Chollick

Despite the knotted rising 
of the slopes, up to their peaks 
they seem to me, these Catskills,
the emphatic stone Taconic,
to shrivel, sink into their dwarf beginnings
or fade; the Adirondacks fade.

And cities too, the feeble
minor neighborhood Poughkeepsie--blah, 
and Utica, and that Kodak town, 
the huddled orchards, they all seem pallid now; 
but just to me, for I am Southeast to my 
haughty city tip--Iím the New York!
And all else--inconsequential meandering
Niagara-nothing rest of it--I blow away.

I am an arrogance of windows: NYC.
I measure worth by length of shadow.
I breathe bellowing, airshaft of the lung.
Sky-scribbled, I am misery and predator, 
a homeless box. Iím easy breezy wonderful, I 
am a Jew--third finger up!

And Albany, that oneís for you.
 
 

Inventing Nations
D. Nurkse

My grandmotherís flesh has grown luminous,
cloudy behind her nylon housecoat.
Since her treatments, she can keep down
only jello, sherry, and whipped cream.
She stays up all night watching old movies:
sometimes she loses her temper, turns off the sound,
and hexes the characters in a language
no one in this city has heard of: by day
she stares at the Narrows framed in her window.
She can no longer identify the flags of freighters
and asks me to, but strain as I may
my vision blurs, and she insists, so I wind up
inventing nations: Liguria, Phoenicia,
Babylonia . . . and she nods. On her wall
Kennedy faces Truman but thereís no picture
of the child dead of consumption
or the child dead of hunger
or the child who was my father
who succeeded, whose heart failed:
all there is from that world is a locket 
showing the infant Mozart playing silence
on a tiny clavichord, behind cracked glass.

(Prior publ. Voices over Water (Four Way Books), a collection by the author.)
 
 

i see them, i donít see them
Angelo Verga

i donít see them, the bearded men
the men who sit, knees tucked in
sneakers on wet midtown street
i donít see them, waiting
to be fed, hundreds of them
many black, some whites
most young and thin,
a few gray women
i donít see them
waiting for the bread
the meat, the lettuce,
mustard tomato
at 7 a.m., the breakfast meal
the Franciscan Friars give them
the giant coffee urn at the other end
where they squat and drink and eat
or hide the napkin-covered treasure
for later. i donít see them
the crusty-skinned, the matted-haired.
i see the smooth-legged, no split-ends
women on their way to work
rushing across the street. i see them.
they donít smell, they donít spit.
i pray to them:
i beg for what i need.

(Prior publ. The Six O'Clock News (Wind Publications), a collection by the author.)

Clouds on Museum Street
Patrick Henry

Bent iron crosses overshadow dusty archives,
Where Freud studied, wrote and ended his times,
Giving language so many of the terms
For the sense of doubt that ensnares lives;
Continued in the caring cautious tone
Speaking soft of terror in this darkened room,
Calm for out there where manic types will storm,
To face myself, hard as an unstarted poem;
Shedding guilt and cash and hours at confession
Withheld from Catholics where I should belong;
On the road, thinking as I reach the warmer South,
He never meant sex alone, but all our twisting path.
 
 

Sweetheart from Sigmund Freud
Patrick Henry

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.

One Eleven North Forty-Ninth Street
Victor Schermer

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.