Braving the Wilds

Field Notes from the Suburban Jungle

Walking A Second Mile

“…each person had their moment when they assumed the skins of wild animals, when they took responsibility for the story…”
From Michael Ondaatje’s,  In the Skin of A Lion.

Arguing an idealistic view,
The younger jaw, set in self-righteousness,
Sits across the table from elder eyes,
Softened by his own altruistic one.
With the advantage of hindsight,
The body that had slipped into the
Skin of a lion to protect, disguise,
In windfall shed that of a seal,
A selkie, wearing another’s moccasins,
Bridging two worlds with the divine mind
Of a philosopher: empathetic, passionless,
Developed human longing and
Outward peace. That familiar jaw,
Tired from talking and stronger from listening,
Would unlock on a Celtic rock, where they
Would meet as equals.

Selkie-in-the-sea-478x700

Woodcut style image of the Celtic mythical selkie in the ocean. ‘Selkie in the Ocean’ image © xunantunich- Fotolia.com

 

 

To the White Horse in the Passing Lane on Route 684

Not yet coaxed to the median,
Where grass grew a foot high,
Bedded down under your
Capsized chariot, wheels spinning
Like the legs of a belly-up beetle
Waving for the cloudless sky
To touch your eyes, humanely blind you,
Now shrouded in a terry cloth
Of Turin, of New York, reeking
Of oxybenzone and coconuts.

An eight-inch gash
Across your ribs didn’t bleed:
Your coated skin split, an open eye lid
Revealing fibrous tissue and
A barrel of bones, creamy
Next to your bleached hair: a proud
Piece of flesh revealing
Where the light had
Entered through your broken window.

A stranger in a foreign land
Of pavement and metal and voices
Unlike your own. Human hands
Knotted your mane in
Shakespearean elfknots,
Placed riders of the apocalypse
On your back, created an
Avatar of Visnu, ushering in
An end, wisdom, and the sardonic
Truth that they unite
In your majestically wounded package.

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Kalkin, Visnu’s Future Avatar, Sandstone, Pre-Angkow Period, first half of the 7th Century, Collection of the National Museum of Cambodia, Phenom Penh (Ka 1642).  Photo Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

 

Genesis

Birds singing an incessantly hopeful
Dawn chorus, a springtime declaration
Of their collective intentions
To live, to thrive, to endure, or,
Scavenging cawing crows,
Ominously cleaning up after those
That could not: this was my
Vernal alarm clock, deafeningly
Absent on this drenched morning,
When the downpours whispered
In my ear, a white noise, a snow
Following a late night TV test pattern,
A gentler, wiser reveille
Less frantic than adolescent
Birds, raging in their desperation
For aviary love.
Beyond the fogged window pane
A torrent, a rambling street river flowed
Over parked tires like wakes
Washing away the sins of
The neighborhood: streaks of
Color, plastic, scrapped paper
With its faded words.
Still rumpled and stale
With sleep, I remained in my
House, my ark, on my horse
Swimming against the tide,
Therapeutically working an
Injured hock. Welcome,
Solitude, allow me to travel in
The company of no one to the
Love of my life. My leaves,
Wet and waxy and
Impossibly green,
Are thriving with the life blood that
Is your water. Protected from
The burning rays of a fickle sun,
My creamy threadlike roots,
Stretch in the damp soil
That surrounds them,
And keeps them free from harm.

images

Fifty-Two Card Pick-Up

“…a game is indeed a clear instance of a process wherein obedience to common rules by elements pursuing different and even conflicting purposes results in overall order.”
-Fredereich August von Hayek

“It is not certain that everything is uncertain.”
-Blaise Pascal

Black suits, smoke, where
There is a red suit, Fire!,
Heralding an unforeseen shower
Of plastic-coated playing cards.

Unfurled, twisting mid-air:
A confusion of butterflies
In transition, in migration,
Suspended in uncertainty.

They fall in a shuffled flutter,
Bent and creased from its
Squeezing projector, in chaos.

Yet each card in perfect design
Symmetrical, rests,
Having lost its mates to
The radiator, the couch cushion,
A rabble of once air born dust clouds.

The deck, useless for solitaire,
Is incomplete, but suitable
For a game of war – or –
As building blocks
For a new house of cards.

 

27, rue de Fleurus

For Elizabeth

“You take delight not in a city’s seven or seventy wonders but in the answer it gives to a question of yours.”
-Italo Calvino

A decade has passed since we lived here,
So we delighted in the fact that the new tenants kept
Our curtains, our finials,
Our terra cotta pots on the distinguished,
Haussmannien balcony. It was in these
Containers that I cultivated a
Smuggled Martha Washington geranium,
Double bagged in A&P plastic tucked
Deeply in a canvas duffle bag that
The sniffing labrador retriever
Gratefully ignored. He instead
Sucked in the moist air around
My ankles, swollen from flight,
Expectancy and pregnancy
And moved along with indifference
To the next foreign traveler.

I suppose I thought I was being provocative
By the gesture, yet disappointingly the
Red blooms never thrived here. They grew, but were
Choked out by the native sort, with which it shared
Soil, lived but never showed her
True, showy blossoms, which stay contained
As the french, split variety spilled over
And welcomed passers-by
On the rue de Fleurus,

Where now a shadow of a sentry
In front of her own personal Picasso
Lays fixed, a mark on the cobblestone
Where her formidable human form
Blocked the terrorizing radioactive light
Of a holocaust.

We were barred entry,
No code de porte; the keypad
lacking in letters which were once permanent,
Offering nothing now but an
Unknown digital sequence.
A less emotional being would remember
Exactly: there are 3,621 miles from
The sidewalks of New York to the
Ville de quelqu’un d’autre,

Where sirens’ foreign screams
Woke us from sound sleep,
Disoriented until I regarded the
Familiar curve of your newborn lips
Blistered from nursing and puckered
Exactly the way they do when you rest,
My own Moveable Feast,
Here, years later,
At home,
Wherever that might be.

Nor’easter

An innocent, gob smacked

In the middle of the

Cone of uncertainty,

Beyond the ignorant base where

The line of sight disappeared

To a vanishing point, the

Imperceptibly omniscient terminus,

Where the storm, played out,

Revealed its aftermath: a force,

An indelible impression on

The landscape, by which only

The eye, centered in learned clarity

Perceived without foresight

Its context, its significance.

Setting the Table in the Age of Reason

“Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching…I have been bent and broken, but I hope into a better shape.”  From Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens.

A dinner fork with a bent tine
Serendipitously landed
At my place setting most often,
It seemed to me.
Flanking a flea market find,
A Wedgewood drabware plate
Crackled and chipped in earnest,
Antiqued sufficiently to suggest
It could have held the roast chicken of
Thomas Paine himself.

The northward tine was at first
Jarring, startling the smooth
Maneuvering of this thrice-daily
Task, sustaining, comforting,
Unifying, at the table
Of those I have borne,
Rendered, after more than a decade of
Sycophantic childhood, as imperfect in
Their teenaged eyes.

The slide of stainless steel
Fits with precision in the
Space between my upper incisor,
My canine, a whistle, never repaired
For a series of human reasons,
Leaving a photo documentary:
A trail of Jaconde-like portraits,
Seemingly confident, omniscient
Expressions, hiding the gaps,
Revealed only to a handful of those
With whom a shared, altruistic,
Symbiosis feeds divinely flawed,
Earthly love.

The Springsteen Phenomenon

Certainly, Bruce Springsteen’s popularity extends beyond the borders of his own Garden State, yet the hype that surrounds him here is impressive.  His popularity is written on many a New Jersey sleeve (or tattooed on an arm. Yep. Seen it).   While sitting in customary Route 3 traffic, I have heard the heavy brass of his late saxophone player, Clarence Clemons, blaring through the open windows of an adjacent car.  I have – with my tongue planted firmly in cheek – joined in an impromptu sing-a-long of Tenth Avenue Freeze Out at our local King’s supermarket.

It seems to be a mutually endearing relationship: Bruce chose his native New Jersey as a home base for him and his family, and references to Jersey run amuck in his lyrics. (This is how I learned that people in New Jersey don’t go to the beach, but they go “down the shore,” where, apparently, everything is all right).

I am not a New Jersey native.  I started this blog as a stranger in a strange land, yet will wholeheartedly admit no true, discernible cultural difference can be found between my not-so-bucolic hometown of Bristol, Connecticut and much of New Jersey.  Both have the distinctive blue collar roots from which Bruce’s poetry blooms.  I remember the New England jovial version of Brucemania which surrounded his Born In the USA tour, which included a stop at the Hartford Civic Center.  I was not allowed to attend.

This curious New Englander finally got her chance a week ago, when Bruce performed his River Tour to a sold out crowd at the Prudential Center in Newark, for which I obtained tickets by some stroke of dumb luck via Ticketmaster online.  With a click of the button at the allotted time of 1o AM, I asked for the “Best Available” seats, and got two in the nose bleed section.  Turns out the entirety of the stadium, which is home to the New Jersey Devils hockey team, sold out in less than ten minutes.

I prepared for the concert by watching videos of swooning fans reaching out to an agile Springsteen as he crooned a gravelly tenor into a microphone.  There were women of every background and age being pulled onstage to “dance in the dark,” including his mother, his daughter, and even a four year-old who bafflingly knew the chorus to Waitin’ On A Sunny Day.  OK.  I get it…  This guy knows how to connect to his audience.  But more: he’s a hometown, good guy, lacking any trace of narcissism that seems to be the trademark of so many other rock stars.

Teetering on a steep balcony over 20,000 like-minded folks who came to see Bruce in his native habitat, I was about to satisfy that curiosity.  Qualifying remark: this was my first big stadium show.  I have no experience seeing Some Big Rock Star in Some Big Stadium.  Previous concerts for me have been limited to smaller venues, with lesser known performers, or ones that had past their prime.  I preferred an intimate show, where I could sit in my accustomed Connecticut reserve and comfortably, quietly enjoy the music that held personal and private significance.  I didn’t need to wear it on my three-quarter-length sleeve.

20,000 people howling Bruuuuuce! in unison?  Amusing.  First name basis and all.  Then the screams…  Jumping up and down, dancing like it might be outlawed tomorrow.  I couldn’t possibly get this excited about someone to whom I didn’t make love or give birth.  I couldn’t join the choir; I didn’t know the words.  And how can the guy behind me know EVERY DAMN lyric to EVERY DAMN song?  Maybe I was just feeling left out.

Surrounding spectators, who I observed like an anthropologist, were either clinging to their loved ones, or swaying in a solitary trance.  One of my fellow concert goers likened the experience to going to a church service of rock and roll, where one worships The Boss.  He took no breaks for close to four hours. At 66 years-old, he even allowed his sycophantic fans to pass his body from a mosh pit back to the stage, an exaltation of supporting hands.  One can even touch his denim garment, for the price of floor seats!

I was converted when the stadium lights were illuminated to reveal his disciples as he performed Lonesome Day, a tune which Salman Rushdie once declared as the best piece written about September 11th.  I was overcome with emotion hearing 20,000 voices sing, “Let kingdom come, I’m gonna find my way, through this lonesome day…” One quarter of all casualties of the terror attacks on the World Trade Center were New Jersey residents, and although there is some debate as to the meaning behind the lyrics, which might be construed as a depiction of more personal loss, the message received by this crowd was one of collective understanding, joyful noise, a healing: even for those that didn’t touch his garments.  And yes, I suppose, many in attendance were so engaged because they probably did make love with Bruce in their ears, perhaps were celebrating in the audience with that same partner, maybe even gave birth with him, too.  Seems as though even the youngest fans know the lyrics, and understand the value of coming together for a few hours, to lose the stiffness and praise Bruce.

Jersey exuberance: 1.  Connecticut Puritanical reserve: 0.

 

Infrastructure

In the last blush of dusk
A child strikes two pieces
Of rose quartz, tumbled
To a high unnatural gloss.

Together with successive
Clicks, he replicates what
A bohemian docent with
Feathered earrings
Explained to him:
People of the Ute,
Land of the Sun,
Conjured the Spirits of
Mid-summer with the
Same crystals nestled in
Rattles of translucent
Buffalo hide.

Glowing Internally,
A mechanoluminescent
Wisdom, mysterious,
Creates encapsulated sparks, as
Every neuron, firing dendrite,
Axon of his golden body, synapse lit in kind,
Forms his Self.

Housed by an ephemeral
Pop-up cathedral
Of transparent skin,
Muscle, native drops of
Aboriginal sanguine fluids,
Flow through
A conduit of an
Equally black-lit blue,
Mixed amongst
Ten pints of various,
Standard, original
Lifeblood.

His own firing light
Nurtured by a protective housing,
Animates him,
Transports him through space,
Allows him to love and fear and despise
Privately. House and home
Protecting the other,
Interdependent,
Cooperatively leaving what once
Will be known as a footprint,
An impression, a suggestion of
Him which will lighten the grey
Of the longest systemic shadows
Cast from ivory tower
Or ceremonial rattle
With a dull flash.

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