Listen to Lou Reed, sure we did, slunk around to his smeared sultry beat, endless transformations into the fantastic where ratty christmas tree lights morph to magical rainbows of nightlight nightlife, dancing under spells of toxicants, sniffing, popping, smoking, shaking, dancing under spells of forbidden scenes out of mad inverted gardens of eden, pure and innocent in the mud of our own passion, pure and innocent of any intent, we played like children mad to be whoever came to our imagination and boom! That's who we were!
Me, I liked corsets and stilettoe heels, glamour of Marlene Deitrich 40s gloss of Marilyn Monroe 50s, mystery of woman who never was, the faker the better. And I swooned under kisses, melted in the strong embrace, fell in love a thousand times a day, they were so handsome, those men, those tall strangers, lusting for secrets, dancing under hegemony of misfit midwest immorality, a thousand Cinderellas, the mice into horses pumpkin into golden coach, too bright city buses and 24 hour hamburger diners in rundown eastside beat street, they called it the burn center, I never knew why.
Me, I liked the repartee, movie stars gathered under seedy mafia ceilings in dark waterfront basements laughing at our own madness knowing the false and the fake, the wigs and makeup covering little boys and girls with peterpan psychosis, the poet cut her forearms with exquisite stroke and did you hear, she tried to suicide, he gave her the pills, he had to go to court, she lied for him, oh how sylvia, and she didn't die after all, oh scream, shall we, howl wild high pitched peals of laughter for no reason at all.
Me, I liked the make-believe, whomever I wished whenever I wished, they'd play along with consummate skill of those who have nothing left to lose, and driving with girls to onion ring palaces on drunken new moon dark nights, music ringing in our ears, mad dramatic scenes of high effect, stealing lovers, returning them in different condition, being stolen, oh marvelous, give me that black fringed dress, it looks better on me! I stole all your jewelry, you painted a wonderful picture and sent it to him, he sent it back to you in a white standard sized envelope, inside there it was, cut into a thousand tiny pieces, oh that was art!
Reveries of the wild side, keeping our mad secrets as we spilled our true false stories like rare red wine onto parquet ballroom floors.
After the attack on New York City I experienced a series of strange events that started me writing again after a long dry spell. I found myself unable to stop writing, as a matter of fact, and would take hours long walks through Manhattan after midnight, compelled by what I saw in the city parks, on sidewalks, wherever I went.
It was a very intense time and I still feel the effects of it.
In August of 2002 I wrote the following poem, trying to express what had happened to my view of life. I also recorded it onto CD, but will reproduce it here in written form.
And it was a beautiful summer day in the middle of August 2002. And I was feeling real good, 'cause the muse of art had touched me and I was writing again, and it was all just smooth sailing.
And I wanted to be outside, so I walked up Fifth Avenue to sit on the benches on the intersection at 16th Street.
And when I got there, in the coveted row of four seats that faced the Fifth Avenue summer spectacle, I saw an old crazy woman muttering to herself on the far right seat.
And I sat on the far left seat and we were bookends! as I muttered my poems to myself and did jazz scatting to amuse myself.
And I watched the New Yorkers walking down the Avenue.
I saw a woman walking her dog, and I sang, "walking the dog, ba doo be doo doo ba doo doo be doo she's walking the dog."
I saw a man pushing a stroller with one kid in it, and perched on his shoulder, a three or four year old baby girl, and I sang a goofy little blues to them:
"Daddy can stroll his baby girl Down the avenue Daddy can stroll his baby girl Down the avenue Daddy give me a piggyback ride! Can I be up high with you?"
And everything I saw turned into poetry and music and human joy and satisfaction. And I was filled with fulfillment and felt completely interwoven into the fabric of the universe, as people do when touched by the muse of art.
And even the old crazy woman sitting far to my left seemed beautiful to me, her scraggly white hair and disheveled clothes and her metal cart stuffed with mysterious possessions. And I sang a little to her in my subtle fashion, fancying that my soft humming would affect her and maybe soothe her shattered psyche for a quick moment. Because anything and everything seemed possible!
And then, like rocks falling from the sky, like a wave of invoked terrible power, like being back in ancient times and seeing Medusa! Or terrible oracular creatures from the mists of antiquity, like Kaballah letters appearing in the air in front of me with too bright a fiery light, I was paralyzed as I watched ....
The old woman slowly, slowly, painfully stood up, and the big black shoe I had seen on her left foot was attached not to a pale old woman leg, but to a ruler-straight metal no frills prosthetic, right out of some horror movie by Wes Craven!
And she used every ounce of will to stand, adjusting little movements to her skirt, her sweater, the cart in front of her that she grasped with her old hands. And after an eternity, defeated, she sat back down again on the wooden bench.
And as if turned to stone, I sat there paralyzed, unable to turn away, unable to move at all. And she was only a few feet from me but did not acknowledge my presence by even the most microscopic human sign, all her will and soul focused on the simple act of going from sitting to standing.
And once again, with idiosyncratic movements of terrible complexity, she rose again, sagged, rose again, gripped her wheeled cart with her one hand, her cheap metal cane with another, and just stood there, inside this weird tragic makeshift conveyance.
And I thought, "She will never be able to take even a step, she's going to drop down dead right in front of me, and all I can do is sit here!" And my tongue was struck dumb and my will suspended in a swarming roar of noise that deafened my ears.
And I felt a scalding wave of shame pass through me, and a gibbering demon voice in my head trying to justify myself. "Well there's nothing you can do for her! Whaddaya you gonna do? Take her in a cab to a shelter? You don't have any money on you! Ask her if she needs help? You might give the crazy old woman a stroke, or maybe just make it all worse, cause her mad routine is what's keeping her alive!"
And then, just as suddenly as it came, the wave receded, and I was empty of every feeling, except the terrible weight of the witness, sitting in awe before a power so much greater than I that everything in my whole existence shrunk into nothing at all.
And she started moving, in agonizing, slow motion, east on 16th Street, and crossed Fifth Avenue one miserable, agonizing step at a time.
And frozen, I watched her cross Fifth Avenue and head down 16th Street till she was out of sight.
* * * * *
And then, as though released from a magic spell, the world of Fifth Avenue came back, strollers and children and dogs and lovers and old people and gangs of friends and trendy young adults in such color and brilliance, I almost swooned!
And once again, everything was smooth sailing, and my muse of art returned and New York City's beautiful Fifth Avenue beckoned, offering me all the riches of America, and it was a beautiful midsummer day.
And another old lady, this one with carefully quoiffed white hair and a sour, disapproving face, sat in the seat right next to me, giving me a dubious look for a brief moment before moving her head away to stare straight ahead of her.
And I felt exactly the same as I had when setting out for the benches, exactly the same. And I went on with my life after that.
Yet out of time, or reason, or sense, the image was seared in my brain of the one legged Medusa woman. And every time I found myself ready to rebel or digress when my muse of art seemed to be asking too much of my human brain, her image would appear, and a flood of power would infuse me. And I would surmount all obstacles because of what I had witnessed.
And I knew I had broken the cardinal and rightfully sacred rule of New York City dwellers by looking up into the eyes of my fellow man as I walked through the town. And I knew I had crossed the line of fate when I allowed others to look into my own eyes and see deep inside.
I will surmount all obstacles to remember, in terrible anguish and joy, Nine-eleven. New York City With love supreme from my naked human soul.
Anna Akhmatova was a Russian poet who lived through the horrors of Stalin's regime, where she was not allowed to publish her poetry, where she saw her son imprisoned for many years, her ex-husband and many others dear to her taken away and killed, where she made her stand and kept writing her poetry, at times not even using pen and paper, just writing in her head, spreading it through word of mouth, kept her muse alive that way.
She wrote a poem about the cruelty of her century, the 20th Century, oh ho ho, little did she know the 21st ain't much of an improvement.
So I thought I would do a tribute poem to Anna Akhmatova, a very cool cat, even in the new millennium.
Anna you knew this table was laid for you, the bill was due, why should you not pay it? Absorbing misfortunes and terrors of your age into your own pounding heart, through some mad alchemy transforming the heaviest despair into poetry which flew like pale white doves high above the realm of grim leadfooted oppressors who could not see streaming banners of truth waving above their small dull heads.
Imagine, imagine whispering the word into one comrade's ear, the palpable excitement of something new! Anna has a new poem! The straining comprehension, the terrible weight of memory, must get each word as it is said, and repeat it, repeat it to another waiting ear, and another, nourishment for starved and scalded spirit.
Whole new languages flourished right in front of foes too numerous to count, where neighbors ratted you out in dead of night knocks at the door, children played spies in deadly earnest, samizdat philosophies wrapped in ribbons of arcane symbols still broke free, a new poem! Anna has written a new poem!
Brutish laughter ringing loudly in stairwells and foyers, heavy pronouncements of big guillotine dooms falling on white bowed necks of poets and philosophers, overflowing jail cells rank with despair, but Anna, Anna has written a poem! Come closer, give me your ear, I will feed you the words, I will go on one more day, oh the excitement!
No hope, no end to dread and grief, words formed in her anguished being from love, from lust and desire, from crazed Russian patriotism to white snow land, St. Petersberg, Leningrad, her bones, her blood. Listen! She has a new poem! Who could imagine mere words to be such a weapon, slicing through immense powers of hatred and oppression, outlasting Stalin and purges of millions. She came to the laden table, she paid the bill, it was, after all, for her.