Ah, clear cold December day, walking around the Astoria scene, always in view, the Hellgate bridge, Hellgate red paint gorgeous against clear blue sky.
And at Rosie and Joe's Italian Bakery, Standing in line, a lady and her daughter, smiles on faces, ordering prosciutto bread and canolli and sesame breadsticks, a few chocolate croissants (the best in New York State!).
Behind me, a young couple he had a European accent, they were discussing whether they should split a canolli, as they looked so creamy, clearly freshly made.
Lovely flaxen haired young woman suggested they split one of the tiny mini-canolli. And her lover laughed and said, "oh no, let's have that big one there!"
I turned and smiled at them; and they smiled back, it was that kind of day; at the friendly bakery in Astoria.
I am Shamooa, Queen of the Jungle! I live by the laws of the jungle, I take what I want and my subjects worship me for the taking, for I am very skillful in this law! And in return I provide well for my subjects, they do not want for food or shelter. I am a Great Queen!
So you can imagine when this strange white man appeared with many crazy notions of behavior that I was not amused! I instructed my warriors to bring him to me, and as I was not feeling cheerful that day, having lost my finest ebony haircomb, I was in the mind to have the strange white fellow severely punished, perhaps executed, which is one of my Laws of the Jungle.
"Oh, strange man, it is good you are comely, else I would have you killed immediately!" I pronounced, seeing some advantages to his tall physique, tho his fairness was quite a miserable sight.
He looked back upon me with equanimity, which only annoyed me, as I am used to awe and worship, a fit and fine response to my Queenliness.
You who attend my words as the sacred pronouncements they are, I shall only say I took him into my tent and many things occurred, many things indeed. After I emerged I made a change in the Law of the Jungle, a small change, really, quite insignificant, a mere token of a satisfaction of my fancy.
I, Shamooa, Queen of the Jungle make this proclamation on this day, seated upon my banana throne, attended by 70 lovely virgins! Henceforth we shall no longer sacrifice humans upon the pyre of Shamooa, enveloped in flames and screaming so delightfully. No, this practice shall be hereby ended. From now on we shall instead make offerings of cocoa nuts and fine firm bananas upon the flame alter of Shamooa. Thus I have said, and thus it shall be!
Ah, it's been said so many times the good heart is loving and kind. And maybe so, yes, maybe so, but my good heart tells me something tells me different.
Oh I get all Old Testament! Mine enemies have cometh upon me, or some such thing, and my good heart feels neither loving nor kind!
No, my good heart wants to smash and rend flesh, pound mine enemies into the ground, and laugh at their pain, oh yes, neither loving nor kind!
And what is worse, I think to myself, To lay bare the hatreds of the angry heart, or cover it with phony platitudes of compassion, false compassion, thinking somehow this false stuff will magically turn real?
No, no, the good heart, is an honest heart, I say! And if consumed with the ugliest of hatreds, let them pour forth in all their bile, let them be faced and not conquered but indulged with highest glee!
No vengeance, nor revenge, but honest look, with straight gaze, to the heart of rage, to see it plain.
And then what? For hate sprung action turns upon itself and wounds the doer, no, that is no fit plan for my good heart.
No place else to go, save deep into the thing itself, witnessing its contours and evil ways, finding the source and using its own strength, slay it!
Can't see it, yet it cools the sweat off your brow on a hot summer day, and though it is invisible, you can see its effects, in movements of branches on a tree, in store awnings snapping, in feeling a cool caress upon the skin.
And today, oh the breezes are intoxicating, a clear blue sky, abundant sunshine, the breezes are playful, whirling the few remaining autumn leaves around, bringing blushes to my cheeks, clearing the sky of clouds.
And all this from what cannot be seen, no, cannot be seen, yet such visible effect, oh a mystery, on this mild early winter day in Astoria.
Ack, these big carts and these narrow aisles! At least it isn't very crowded, that would drive me mad. Let's see ... yeah, potatoes, want those nice little ones, oh here's some Yukon gold, they are nice, I'll take a little bag of 'em. And some onions, too, I gotta feel each one, make sure they're firm and not spoiled. A bunch of nice orange carrots, oh they smell good, so fresh.
Down the refrigerated dairy aisle, well at least it's double wide so I'm not too crowded in with this big old cart. Butter, yes, whipped unsalted butter, Breakstone brand, and yes, a big old tub of Breakstone sour cream. Oh look, I like those Paul Newman cookies, but no, not tonight, nope.
Ok, sure I'll get some of that Pepperidge Farm pumpernickle bread, it's good for grilled cheese sandwiches. And oh ... oh, here's the heavy duty tinfoil, and yes, two cans of College Brand beef broth. And gotta get some Era laundry detergent, but I'm not buying that giant thing, it'll be too heavy to carry home with all the rest of the stuff, oh good, here's a smaller bottle, that's fine.
Oh, that girl at the checkout, she's eating Stella Doro cookies and she's laughing and talking to someone one aisle over, ick, I wish she'd close her mouth when she did that! Oh well. And good lord, I don't need five bags for all this, it could fit in three ... ah just let me out of here, I don't care, put it in twenty bags if you so desire!
It's unseasonably warm tonight, as I walk down 23rd Avenue, and I see a shining sliver of moon in the clear night sky, such a slim crescent, and oh, that's why I was so moody on Wednesday, it was the new moon and I didn't even remember! And now it's waxing again, that little silver cat-eye, looking down on me with moony glee.
Oh from that old book, little girl reading of the fisherman's clever daughter, or in another, the farmer's clever daughter, always a man of humble birth, a commoner, but with a daughter who knew a thing or two.
Always the king would come, or the king's advisors, always the father put in danger if he doesn't answer important and impossible questions, always great rewards if he is successful. And always, the daughter comes up with the answer. A favorite conundrum of the little girl's, after all the rigamarole with the dad, the handsome king challenges directly for the clever daughter, he says "she must come to me, neither riding nor walking, neither clothed or naked ..." and some other impossible stuff as well.
And the daughter is so cool ... she comes to the King riding a donkey, a small animal, with her feet dragging on the ground, so she is neither riding or walking ... and she winds a fishnet around her body, so she's neither clothed nor naked. And she ends up victorious in this game of riddles.
The little girl has no interest, really, in the father or the king, after all, she's only a little girl. But the clever daughter, that just tickles her, all the different ways of looking at a question, all the different ways to wisdom.
Smoking a cigarette outside in the cold, sunny winter air, I hear the pure clean sound of a flute, and oh, there he is, middle aged black man standing on the sidewalk, on 51st Street. Behind him, parked on the street in front of the Time-Life Building, sits a Tremblay bus, one of those big blue and white charter buses, and I see a stream of tourists enter, climbing up the stairs into its open door.
The musician is dressed neatly and simply, blue wool pea coat, dark green stocking cap, navy blue dress pants, black tie shoes, and he is playing a silver flute that flashes in the midtown sunlight, he's playing pure clean notes, not virtuoso, no, but soulful and sweet, played some pastoral music, and then, sweet and stately, Ravel's "Bolero." I walk up to him, put a buck in the big round red plastic Folger's container he uses as a tip jar, look in his eyes, and say "oh that's lovely," and he nods a thank you back to me.
So I am innocently going to lunch emerging from marble elevator bank, and in the lobby I hear music, a capella singers, and I smile when I hear the tune "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm," done in three part harmoney, on pitch, on key, oh how nice, and then ... and then ... horrors!
For who is this trio singing one of my favorite songs, and why are they dressed as they are, with knee high black boots, black knee length trousers, white gloves, scarlet jackets with a white "X" marked off on the front, high black fur hats, their faces painted goulish white with scarlet circles on the apples of their cheeks?
And I ask, why are the giant nutcracker men dressed as soldiers and why are these singers, doing their Christmas carols, dressed as soldiers, as though soldiers had anything to do with the solemn day, of joy and peace on earth?
I stand there in the fancy marble lobby, stock still, and watch as they wrap up the song "... but I will weather the storm/what do I care, how much it may storm/I've got my love to keep me warm ..." and I think to myself, oh yes, I dig the good cheer, dig the love and the season, but these fellows, oh I know who hired them! ... as I glare and shake my fist at the giant shadows in front of my building, on the Sixth Avenue side, oh yes, I know!
And such a song as Solomon wrote to his love, his woman, and such a song she, unnamed, sang in return!
Adorning each other with praises and phrases of adoration, rose of Sharon, lily of the valleys, her lover, like a roe or young hart.
The sumptuous feasts, honey, apples, green figs and vines with the tender grape, The sumptuous luxuries of spikenard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, ah, fragrances so heady and divine!
And yet she says, oh she says, "tell him, that I am sick of love," And I wonder, what is that about? Sick of love? With all that fine food, fine scent, with all the glories of each other, to be sick of love?
And though of course scholars far wiser than I have far better explanations, I can't help but think I know what she means, that anonymous woman from so long ago.
For it is not love, I think, that she is sick of, no not love, but the thoughts of the heart when her lover is away, the thoughts of the heart that possess and question, and yes, she sees it clear, I think, though I cannot know, I am no scholar.
But perhaps it is that, the tides of doubt that so many call love, that cause great novels to be written where young girls swoon over plots and subplots, treacheries and dramas, oh yes, the tensions of the vanities,
And I think perhaps that is what she meant, what she was referring to in her exhortations to the daughters of Jerusalem, when she said "for I am sick of love."
Oh they're back, I saw them this morning, back from dank hole internment, and you who scoff at me, you Auld Manhattoe sophisticates, if they are so safe, then why are they lashed so strongly to the mighty pillars of the UBS Building, yes lashed, their height towering over me as I walk through the revolving doors, their evil red jackets and Frankenstein-jawed faces, they mean me ill, even as I see poor innocent children posed amid their giant white legs as their tourist parents, unaware, snap pictures (and how many of those pictures, in scrapbooks throughout America, have me in the background, smoking my cigarette and balefully gazing at those evil apparitions?).
Oh yes, the evil returns, the giant nutcracker men lining the front of my workplace, and they laugh, oh they scorn me but I know those jaws are waiting, waiting for the dead of midtown night, when few souls are in sight, they come alive, snarling and gnashing their hideous jaws (and for what purpose those jaws, I ask, where are there walnuts or pecans large enough to need such a puissant cracker?), straining at the restraints binding them to their pillars, and mark my words, one day they will break loose and the carnage will not be pretty.
What did she think, I wonder, what did she think when she met him, oh tear away, please tear away the legends and lofty worships, I wonder what she thought, through all her years of scandals and promiscuity, through those years gaining a small view, like peeking through crack of door, what is seen is real enough but not the whole view, no.
What did she think, I wonder, when she met him, saw compassion without reference to personality, love without claims, like one who has only known muddy water beholding a pure clean spring? Did she resist at first, trying to fit this perception in too small a frame, did she resist and still use her wiles as she had always used them, they had worked well enough before, had they not? She was still alive, big survivor in dangerous times, certainly these skills were important and good.
What did she feel as they all fell away, spent arrows that reached no target but her own heart, as they all fell away, that which had kept her safe in this narrow view, thinking the half glimpsed open sky was all there could possibly be, oh the terror to feel it all fall away, did she grasp on to those blunted and obsolete methods anyway, did she wilfully look away? Perhaps she did, perhaps.
And when did it finally dawn upon her, when did the door open wide and even her cynical eyes could no longer deny what was revealed to her, and it was only a question of stepping over the threshold?
She did, she walked into the open air, saw the sky entire, and saw him, only a man, a fellow human being, who had also seen something, and she opened her eyes wide, she took in the view, oh this could not have happened very quickly, could it, that it all fell away, and yet at some point it must have happened all at once, the step through, the open eyes. Did it perhaps happen more than once, the sight driving her back, yet each time closer, to step through again until finally there was no turning back?
Only a man, a fellow human being who had also seen something, no general or king, and I wonder if she saw that a life can be a teaching in itself, the contemplation thereof, the expression of existence itself an influence, unknowing, unintended, that opens a door, and so because of this view of him, knowing she was free to choose, there was no expectation or demand, no invoice or bill of lading, no familiar haggling and bargaining, that this was not the marketplace but a new place entire, I wonder if knowing this was what decided her first step, into the sky, opening wide the door.
For if this is true, for if even a small part is true, then the offering,the offering of the precious and perfumed oil, offering that was scorned and rebuked by those who witnessed it, was no intention of costly gift from the marketplace, but instead an offering of giving up the old to embrace the new, the greater view.
Kerosene can thumping, Plunking broom wire diddleybow. Starlit dirt path in Delta night, Single tree aglow with homemade lanterns, A little coal oil fuel, Snip of mule plow line makes a wick.
Sound filled Saturday night juke joint, Guitar blues played from cane bottomed chair. Drink beer from a cup or whiskey right out of the bottle, Women dance, lift the skirt a little higher, little higher. There’s gambling, sometimes food. Make a few bucks, Little something on the side.
Kerosene can thumping, Plunking broom wire diddleybow, Puts them on the train to Chicago. Now he got a guitar with a fine DeArmond pickup, Now he got a big sound for the big town. Make a few bucks that way, Little something on the side.
From Mississippi Delta to Jewtown Maxwell Street Swing town about to turn, from sweet to strong and blue Modern, modern, for it sings about right now!
Kerosene can thumping, Plunking broom wire diddleybow. Muddy and Jimmy Play Chicago Chess. The king moves one big square at a time Till he takes the town.
Electric America! Cane bottom chair in quiet country To raw Midwest stage in noisy city. Rolling and tumbling big blues men Sweep the country, Cross the ocean, Change the world.
Every workday an ascension of subway stairs and bam! Auld Manhattoe, midtown, where even sky must battle for attention amid the ten thousand things. I hear ghosts of 52nd Street jazz dives where horns gleam in dim smoky light and junkys make heroin deals on sooty sidewalks, see pedestrians stream from all directions, darting in front of endless parade of cars taxis trucks in daily shortcuts, then walk through galleries formed between the tall buildings, galleries with high glass vaulted ceilings so far over my head, enter skyscraper through great brass revolving doors, moving down long elegantly lit corridors lined with bistros and sandwich shops, grab my breakfast from one, pass through security turnstile into marble elevator bank where I am whisked to a high floor. And there, at end of day, from out quotidian office windows, I gaze upon glorious sunsets, oh the high floors give larger view of heavens, wide glorious view like that of bird on the wing, within, and yet without, descending, on metropolitan sidewalk the very place which gave the view, oh it blocks the sky.
He has traveled, yes Gone from green warm southern climes to wasted lands filled with tragedy and rue filled with beauty and soulful meanings
He has traveled, yes gone from home, gone to places unimaginable and returned to greater tragedies than he traveled to aid
What rich irony! His anger, slow Mississippi of brown mild water seems so harmless till the rains pour and inexorably show its stubborn implacable rule.
Neither mild indecision nor flaming fires of rage, the slow construction of his strength in cadences measured by human heartbeat, slow and steady, rising, rising until it cannot be ignored.
Strength of patience, deep humanity, of warmth and complications of richly generous smile and poetic language of gifts to shame Paris make Apollo take note, and Venus to beguile as Hera watches jealously, as Athena stands by, serene, knowing he will be hers alone
Coveted golden apple, fought over by goddesses simple words a slow fire the warmth is what beguiles, the slow movement of warmth growing into glow and oh, the wonder of it to a discerning heart.
Ah, big bustle of Auld Manhattoe, try to get a bite of lunch, get trampled by the crowds, frantic holiday shopping and tourists arriving in hordes, they all end up in Midtown to dismay of working stiffs trying to stretch two hours of errands into one, oh there's baby carriages and backpacks, big Rockefeller Christmas tree drawing crowds like piney green magnet, energy sky high, sidewalk trees all lit up with lights twisted over branch and trunk, tarted up like stationary streetwalkers to provide festive evening glow.
In mighty skyscrapers maintenance men have lugged out huge crates of decorations, put up hundreds of shimmering golden wreathes and highly ornamented trees. I walk through marble halls bemused at the twinkle, langorous amid the bustle, pondering instead the stillness of an evening, toasting marshmallows over an open fire, burbling creek sparkling under full moon light, a humble woodcutter, and, well, a goat.
Full moon tonight, saw it in clear dark sky from overhead subway platform, so bright, casting its reflected light over dimmer modest Astoria Christmas street decorations, silver whiteness of light, not hot burn of golden sun but strong nonetheless, fullness of moon moving mysterious tides through human heart, cycles of fullness waning to emptiness, scary shadows stranger than daylight's inky contrast, silvering the streets and redbrick apartment houses, shining in my window like open cats eye, gazing in feline indifference upon the splendor its own beauty has wrought.
Yes, I am Scheherezade, teller of the 1001 tales, told to save my life, that's a big inspiration, indeed. Yes, I am the magnificent and beauteous storyteller to Sultans and Kings, I am legendary and powerful as I weave my words into glorious tapestries of color, scent and sound, all bow before me! Oh wait, here comes the Sultan, cheese it! (giggling harem girls scatter like gauzy moths).
Indeed, you have had such a terrible day, oh Great One! I am humbly at your service to soothe your troubled mind, to give my small token of adoration to one who rises so far above me as to be almost invisible! Please allow me the great honor of being able to speak but a single word to your fair countenance. A story, you say? Oh yes, I have a story for you, it is my single and only pleasure.
Oh, oh! You must go? Urgent business awaits you, oh I am devastated, Great One, I shall await your summons and yes, of course, be off!
Ok, so he was SO well dressed tonight, I do dig that cloth of gold, how dreamy. Hey, Fatima, stop shoving, there's room enough for everyone, yes, oh glorious chicks, I'll tell you a tale and then really we must get some sleep so we can look all gorgeous and reet petite tomorrow.
Well, of COURSE, Rubia, he told me I was his favorite! Because I am! Everyone knows that, jeesh. You weren't even here, for Pete's sake, I am always alone with His Adorableness when it's story time, so you'll just have to take my word for it. Ah, Rubia, you are so kind, I love the way you brush my hair, mmm ...
Oh yes, a story. Well ok. Gee you girls are demanding!
Once upon a time there lived a beautiful young maiden named ... ok, ok, her name was Fatima, are you satisfied? Will you stop shoving Ama? So Fatima was born into a very poor family, but her mother and father were very good and devoted parents, sacrificing all they had so that Fatima could have a chance for a better life than they.
All right, I see what's going on over there, those cookies are for TOMORROW, put them BACK! Have a raisin. No! The pomegranite is mine!
Why I ... ooof! Pillow fight! Fatima, oh you ... you ... ahahahahah, I'll get you! Oh ho ho, that was a good one, Rubia, there's feathers all over her head, ha ha! I've never seen anyone's face turn so red ... ooooof! All right, you got me fair and square.
Well now I'm just exhausted, chicks. Please get the servant girls to clean up all these feathers and let's go to sleep.
Latkes, potato pancakes, made during Chanukah, Festival of the Lights, holiday for frying, oh mercy, well it's because of the oil, of course, the miracle of finding oil to keep the eternal flame burning in the Temple, the one that got destroyed, oh yes it did.
Smashed, looted, desecrated, no more big splendor in the House of God, all for naught, despair so thick you could cut it with a knife, all gone, lost, forsaken, what dread, what terrible fears and glooms manifested among the newly dispossessed!
Who was it, I wonder, who saw the flame, the eternal flame symbol of indestructibility of light of the spirit, who saw and thought to keep it alive amid such devastation, such destruction? What would be the point? Surely judgment of fate was so evident as to overshadow any higher decree, what was there to save?
Why, I wonder, why did that person do it, why put the oil in the lamp, knowing there was not enough, not enough to last until further supply could be obtained, seems sort of cruel to build up hope only to have it crashing down, yet again, crashing and crushing the small spark of humanity flickering in the assembly, oh perhaps the fellow was mad with grief and simply holding on to habit, in some daze of horror, not even realizing what he was doing.
And yet it lasted, the fuel lasted far beyond the time it should have, as fate warred with spirit, oh a mighty battle, offering made, such trust, a naked plea to make the fates themselves weep and perhaps soften just a little, oh there would be hard times, hard times ahead, but for now, yes, now let the light continue, feed the spirit once again, and so it was and so the miracle of the lights.
And so the tradition of using oil in cooking during this Festival, and of course traditional food such as latkes, potato pancakes, a festive food, have it with applesauce or sour cream (and caviar if you wanna get fancy), or just with salt, heaped high on a big plate, whoo!
Carrots. That's the secret ingredient. Just a little, grated along with the potatoes and onions. Cuts the grease, gives a little sweetness, a little tiny kick, oh those are good eating.
In every battle, each impossible quest, heartsore, deep weariness of soul, yet strong in resolution (for pain, doubt don't matter, die has been cast, choices made), but oh, in each instance of the magical quests of yore, fraught with dangers, all those tales read at night to sleepy children of the generations, there is a time, a pause, for appreciation of matters, simple matters, a glass of wine, a clasped hand, savory meal, happy music revelry or silent glance, a moment to refresh and enjoy, pleasure made that much deeper in contrast with dangers and terrors ahead.
Oh, a fine line to tread in this enjoyment, can't forget the reason it appears to begin with, earned from, pulled from our own torn and accepted fate, gods providing blessed refreshment for the weary only to cast us back into the fray, to win, to lose, the only sure thing the struggle itself.
So that in the end, even if crowned with glory and power, even if golden treasures overflow the hold of our ship, what is remembered as highest value, with greatest love, is the pause, simple pleasure thereof.