In a town by a sea of great affinity,
people live to begin;
pull out all stops
in the name of origin.

Here, a boy almost seven,
his guests poised to plunge
on three. Once submerged
the party unfurls: limbs lick blue,
strokes feathery with memory;
cheers catch, bubble,
laughter mute on faces.

 

The winter storm warning is in full effect,
high winds and 12 to 16 inches
of accumulation expected in the next 24 hours.

The weatherman’s voice curls around the room
like a spell, comfort to all present.
Mom on the couch hooks ochre yarn,
halfway to sweater arm, Dad and one daughter
lean over the counter with the Times,
sharing the occasional snippet,
while a second daughter sits at the table
with a cup of chamomile tea.

We advise you to cancel or at least postpone
any imminent travel plans.

There are frequent checks, long looks
out the front window as Mom, Dad, daughters,
fleece wrapped and intimate
with private affliction, behold such pristine beauty,
vaguely pleased by agreement between
what’s seen and what’s heard (their lives short this),
that voice mild as cows at pasture.

We’ve got you covered.

Such pleasure in being dry and warm
in this minute; faintly aware
the slim barrier holding tempest at bay.
The daughter at the table finds herself pulled
thousands of bedtimes back: rapt, charmed
by a prophet Mom, forecaster of everything,
who reads aloud books about a family of talking bears,
determined little engine, girl called Madeline.
This daughter can still hear herself repeating
on Mom’s leaving the words of the bunny
who bids goodnight to kittens and mittens
and clocks and socks, hears now hint
of prayer before inevitable surrender,
chill of the unknown: shapes transformed,
moon rising in the window.

She’s in her wheelchair
when we first see her,
her frame too frail to support
a precipitous weight gain.
With her back to us,
she looks through a picture window,
unmoving as we enter,
our steps cautious, voices low.

It’s my boyfriend and I,
my dad and stepmother.
Our greetings rise in pitch
and my grandmother turns,
smiles: “Oh, well look at this.”
I hug her sloped shoulders,
place a kiss on her cool cheek;
others do their version.

We chat about the usual—
where we’re living these days,
folks we’ve seen, “those darn
Mariners, just can’t catch
a break.” I circle the dim room,
pausing to handle and remark
on the odds and ends
that line every available surface—

The sock monkey, Beanie Babies,
plastic Kewpie dolls; model cars
and a tiny 747, testament
to my grandmother’s Boeing days.
And the bulletin boards!
Old news clippings,
photos of first husband
and every child and grandchild,

Reno and Maui trips
with her last love, long dead.
“I don’t know how I wound up
with all this junk,” she says,
her bright eyes a giveaway
(she knows, loves it).
Then, with conversation steering
to a close, comes a story

Of a pregnant cat my grandmother
would watch for hours at a time
some days, sit at her window
and just watch this cat
as it slunk around the bushes
across the street. Until one day
last week when she stopped appearing—
poof, gone.

“I’m just sure she went into those
bushes to have her kittens,
see. And I’m worried about her,
because you know I just haven’t
seen her and I’m afraid some-
thing might have happened.
I tell you I’ve been at that window
every day just waiting for her.”

We say our goodbyes shortly after.
From the parking lot, I glance
up to find my grandmother back
at her window, waiting anxiously
for that cat of hers to reemerge
a mother, as she, Grandma,
is a mother, as she will always
be a mother, even in dying.

These are the moments in time that stand out when I first think of New York City.

– hearing the street vendor who looked like he should have been breaking legs for Jimmy Hoffa, with the rich, Bronx-rounded voice of Pennywise the Clown, selling, of all things, bubble guns. He breaks certain words through the middle, like a boat bridge opening to let the river of people hustling along the sidewalk through underneath. As it just so happens, I commit his speech to memory instantly.

When I first saw you, you were shuffling down the aisle of a crowded train, pausing every few seats to check in—

“How do I get to Myrtle?”

“How do I get to Myrtle?”

“How do I…”

I’ll admit to feeling a prick of annoyance (not another one), but it passed on realizing your compromised condition—a slight allover tremor, eyes milky with age. You were lost, and without assistance. When you got to where I was, it was time to step out. Thinking fast—Myrtle… Myrtle Avenue?—I said I could help you; I reached for your arm, and you gave it to me. As we stood together on the platform, I asked you for more, for anything. But all you could give was “Myrtle,” plus a few extras like “want” and “need,” conjuring an image of Myrtle not as place but as woman pined for. I consulted a subway map anyway, a matrix of colored strings to confuse the spriest of us. Pointing out various neighborhoods Myrtle Avenue traverses, I looked for signs—an affirming nod, flicker of recognition: home. None came. Instead, a new word, faint but there: “Lewis, Lewis and Myrtle.” Energized, I trailed a finger, inching east, and… Lewis. Lewis Avenue: a mere three complicated train transfers away. Daunted on your behalf, I did my best to explain the complexity of what awaited should you attempt again the train, next asking softly if you had money for a cab home. You were keeping up well enough, because you pulled out a billfold, which you opened and held open for me, revealing a brave sad emptiness. I told you it was okay, I could pay for your ride, and you followed me silently, slowly up the stairs and out into the circus that is downtown Brooklyn during rush hour. As you waited somewhere at my back, I watched cab after cab clear the intersection, every last one taken. An irrational desperation crept steadily in, erasing relationship woes, that problem at work, until the only thing left to care about was getting you out of all this. I chanced a quick look behind—your face, that impossible read—and a second later a yellow car was slowing at the curb. I filled in the driver, paying in advance, in approximate, and he gave you a kind smile, understanding. “We’ll getcha there.” You took some time getting situated, organizing your tired bones in that backseat, and I stood there wondering about so much… Your solemn “thank you” caught me unawares, struck deep, though I don’t believe it changed anything important.

Years out, certain evenings when I’m feeling lost, lived up, I take to Brooklyn’s quieter streets and think of you and our exchange. I hope you made it home alright,

home to your Myrtle.

Kimberly and I had for a few months exchanged idle suggestions that I come to New York to read at one of the Literary Experiences.  Then United had a special.  Buy a ticket with the moon and Pleiades in Acme special configuration, and get another ticket free.  I happened to be traveling for business under that auspicious astronomical prodigy, so I thought to myself, still with an idle inflection, “hey, what better use for that free ticket I have coming?”

I asked Kimberly what she thought, and after a while she responded, “Well, you know, late March is about right for the next TNBLE.  I’ve got you down.”  Oh shit.  So much for idleness.  As I firmed up travel plans I increasingly looked forward to meeting Kimberly and others with whom I was familiar from TNB, including Kristen Elde and Tod Goldberg.  Kimberly set the theme “Growing Pains”, which gave me plenty of space for creation (which is to be expected, since this is the most prominent theme of TNB pieces).

I wrote and re-wrote my piece, a poem called “Growing up Misfit” which I’ll post in a day or two. [Done].  I picked out an appropriate Senegalese kaftan with Djellaba stylings (minus the hood, of course,) made by the excellent tailor Dantata near the Muslim Quarter, Bogobiri Corner, of Calabar.  I was ready.  After an uneventful trip Friday morning I arrived at LaGuardia and took the shuttle to the hotel, taking a moment to puzzle at the groups of soldiers with prominent sidearms hanging out ostentatiously with police at the Queens–Midtown Tunnel.  “What, do they think they’re the Comitatus Posse?” I wondered.

 

A friendly reminder:

The Nervous Breakdown’s Literary Experience, NYC will soon be bloomin’!

Mark your calendars now for Friday, March 26th for readings from your favorite TNB writers, centered around the theme: GROWING PAINS!!

The details:

Whoops

By Kristen Elde

Essay

One Friday morning, I was running the streets of Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood when I tripped on some garbage and fell, bracing my fall with… my chin.

The sound was the worst: the dull internal clatter as top teeth met bottom. After lying prostrate in the middle of the dusty street for a split second, I scrambled to right myself. I made it to a sitting position and my thoughts went instantly to my mouth. My teeth: were they all there? A quick once-over with my tongue suggested they were. At the same time I brought my hand to my chin—but not before a nice crossing guard thrust a stack of napkins beneath it, urging me to apply pressure. “You hit the ground hard, honey. There’s blood—a lot of it.”


The Nervous Breakdown’s Literary Experience, NYC will soon be bloomin’!

Mark your calendars now for Friday, March 26th for readings from your favorite TNB writers, centered around the theme: GROWING PAINS!!

Friday, March 26, 2010
Happy Ending Lounge
302 Broome Street

Doors open: 7:00pm
Program begins: 8:00pm

Cover: FREE*!!

I live where toddlers cram spongy Cheerios into jellyfish mouths, trip and lurch like damp little drunks, and hone elimination skills on a squat plastic potty. I’m not actually present for any—my day-hour rituals are of a more droning and fluorescent nature—but some things are safely assumed.

Enter evening, when the babes retreat, the light dims, and the chorus lulls.

That’s the Monday through Friday breakdown. There are also weekends: two days per when the sauce in the sippy cup sparks spontaneous flits and twirls and lascivious text parades in lieu of wobbly grievances in the vein of “Milo drank my appul juuuice! Waaahhh!!”

It’s a whale of a deal, this only-in-New York living arrangement, with a couch-change price tag, eggshell walls you lose on the way up, appliances that glitter and clink expensive newness, and a porcelain bathtub with mineral curves so pure and sweet and sad that to bathe is to go back.

See also: a small unit set apart from the rest—a tidy afterthought with a big sure lock. But who’s fooled? My bedroom: porous like nobody’s business.

I.

It’s pleasing to three-year-old Me, the amount of light, real and artificial, filling the room right now, and as I look down, my legs floating off the edge of the soft sinking couch that feels against my bottom just like the one we have at home, I watch my feet, striped in purple and red because of the socks I picked out myself and put on earlier. These aren’t the only stripes. There are others, ones made by the sunlight coming in through the window that is not a regular window like the ones at home, but a window with something on it so that the light makes lines as it enters the room. These lines go in a different direction than the ones on my socks, which makes little boxes on the tops of my feet. I keep on looking at my feet, because I think the lines look neat all together as they are, and a little like the floor in the bathroom at home, where I remember standing and looking up up up at my dad brushing his teeth. I wonder when I will see my dad again. It probably won’t be very long from now, because I remember wondering the same thing many times before and always, every time, I have seen my dad again. Suddenly there is a picture in my head of some quiet water, and I think maybe it is the water from earlier.

II.

This arrangement is all wrong. It’s like my 31-year-old thighs, parallel to the floor and about three feet above it, are popping out of cartoon jail, wedged between three skinny pillars: pinched, chafed, wrong. My lower abdominal region is also constricted, made concave by a jutting, hard-plastic table-for-one. Suddenly I’m aware of airplane sounds, not from actual planes but from the mouths of women who hover above me, their lips moving in rapid succession. And suddenly—food! It hits me like a full-on air assault, rubber-tipped spoons loop-di-looping fast and furious toward my mouth, depositing quivering iridescent globs of creamed corn, mushy peas, mashed carrots and sweet potatoes and neon squash, next egg custard, berry medley, brown-ripe banana, pureed pears, applesauce, honeyed yogurt, more banana… I take it all in, too, determined not to make a mess. But I’m horrified, the whole thing is horrifying and I want it to stop. My stomach is really hurting and I’m so worked up I can’t even cry. Desperate for relief, I transform myself into an eel, sliding easily out from the chair and slithering to the center of the room, where the best toy is laid out: the giant road rug, complete with crosswalks and traffic islands and signs to the zoo. Coasting at leisure, I spy in the top right corner a small dark clump of trees, and, pausing for no more than a second, I disappear silently inside it.

 

On waking, wholeness. Precious.