courtesy of sadness

In the city, which never sleeps, it is difficult to find a napping New Yorker. Even on the subway, there are restless multi-taskers swiping away at their ipads and cell phones. Some balance laptops on laps, while others can be found with a thick pile of papers atop their thighs to prepare for an array of early morning meetings. New Yorkers are always busy and because of this preoccupation with always doing something, they tend to forget to notice what exists around them.

Underground, we seek out seats and balance the weight of gym bag and yoga mat and briefcase and backpack and pocketbooks the size of small suitcases. There are rare moments when the doors open and you have many seats to choose from. During peak hours (and in New York, all hours are peak), you must shimmy your way in and do your best not to let you hands wander; humans get very, very close underground.

Amidst this overcrowded chaos, there are moments where humanity exists in the most symphonic way. Look to your left and you may catch the little girl around 4 or 5 years old singing nursery rhymes to herself as her mom or guardian looks on. A guy at the end of the train seems to have forgotten that he is not in his bathroom, as he lifts bare feet up and begins clipping his toenails. I seem to be the only one in fear of a flyaway piece of hardened keratin. A female nuzzles with her lover: another young woman with a tattoo of a dragon on her forearm. Many act as though they cannot be seen and this is when we can catch bits of uncensored New Yorker emotion.

This is what I look for.

This is what reminds me that although we go home to different sized apartments (some have no home to go to) or engage in lifestyles of varied monetary styles, we are all here on this train together. Religion, race, economic background, or educational history do not matter.

The cover charge is the same for everyone: $2.50 per ride. As I look, I take out my red notebook and begin to write what I see.

***

It is impossible not to notice the color of May sky on her fingernails. Blue unlike turquoise or swimming pool or deserted-island ocean. Blue like the color of sadness. And she was crying. This young woman, perhaps around twenty-four or younger, had drops of salt falling from her eyes, brown like dug up earth. I sat across from her on the 3 train heading back into Brooklyn on a Sunday. It was early and it seemed like she may have been wearing last night’s attire: carefully ripped stockings, short black skirt that was neither leather nor linen. Cotton spandex mix? Her shirt was also black—true New York fashion derived from the allure of midnight: dark and slimming. Her hair was tossed up into a high pony tail/bun combination. I couldn’t stop staring.

Sometimes I really believe I am invisible as I travel underground from one borough to another. Brooklyn into Manhattan or Queens to the Bronx. Strangers stuck in a train with windows, which do not open. We involve ourselves in technological distractions: the latest popular downloaded game on fancy cell phone; rapper-endorsed headphones over ears blasting shuffled music; travel-sized electronic books. Some sleep. Some sneak sips of beer hidden inside brown paper bag. I have seen mothers nurse their babies and change diapers. I have seen fancy-suited proselytizers. I have seen guardians hit their kids. I have seen the beginnings of sex, heavy petting and deep-rooted foreplay. There has been vomit and piss and spilled meals and grime and rain all staining the floors and seats of these trains.

On this particular Sunday, I want to offer this young person a tissue. I want to climb in the empty orange seat next to her and hold her painted fingers as we sit in silence. I want to ask her what happened. I look around and wonder if anyone else notices what I am noticing or if they are stuck inside the NY code of contact to ignore, ignore, ignore.

Some occurrences on the subway elicit a response. Whenever God is mentioned, there is someone else on the train ready to retaliate. A man screams at his girlfriend and several people get involved to protect. A kid screams his/her way into a deafening tantrum and everyone rolls their eyes at once. But sadness tends to induce complete disregard. Perhaps it is so elevated in ourselves that it is too difficult to notice it in others. So, when this girl cries into her hands, she becomes deeply ignored. All eyes look away, except mine.

There are many rites of passage as a NYC subway rider. The top three that tend to eventually baptize commuters into “true New Yorkers” are: falling asleep and missing your stop, vomiting on the subway and crying while underground. I have reached all three and some more than once.

We tend to notice what we want to notice. Or sometimes we see what we want others to see in us. I notice the sad. When I am stuck on a train full of laughter, my eyes will gather steam from the couple at the far end who are nodding off, track marks on exposed forearms and twitching with each stop. Maybe I feel the need to notice the forgotten humans—the ones cast aside because they look crumpled or lost. The ones who smell. The ones disconnected through distracting electronica.

This particular woman still has the stain of Saturday’s lipstick on lips. I can tell it is from yesterday because it is darkest on the ends and far more faint throughout the rest of her mouth. I watch her take out cell phone and rub finger along screen. She is scrolling up and down, reading something. I imagine her reading text messages from whoever or whatever she came from. Perhaps she is reading something that birthed these tears. A text-messaged break-up? Her lips move as she silently reads from the screen. Her forehead squints into furrows. Her tears stop and now she looks angry. What is happening? She looks up and notices me noticing her. I look down because maintaining eye contact with this beautifully sad woman is far too intimate for me at this time of the day. I prefer being unnoticed or maybe I just enjoy having control over this noticing. It makes me wonder if anyone is noticing me.

 

no, this is just what happens when you pay attention to the life outside and in.

Bodies fold like tired laundry. Beds are no longer a necessity when eyes climb closed and the push/pull of subway lulls bones to sleep. We wear our coats now. Construction boots. Necks are scarve’d and skulls are capped by wool. How contagious is that cough at the end of this train. Would we still exist without cell phones or candy crush.

At 6:36am on Wednesday, the sky still sleeps. Call it eighty shades of black with planets that blink. If I hadn’t of noticed that chip in the moon last night, I might have forgotten why I look up so often. At 125th Street, the humans get off and suddenly that coveted blue bench is empty. I am book-ended by sleepy commuters and across, a man shakes his neck toward the music piped into his ears. I need no record or radio to channel the pre-recorded rhythms in my mind.

Outside, pigeons flap wings wearing reminders of breakfast: barbecue sauce, bones on their breath. I cannot explain why I call them my favorite bird, but maybe it is their flight. History as grey and white mailboxes or. Maybe it is the way they are ignored or shooed away. And aren’t the most beautiful parts of earth also what we tend to forget to notice?

the poetics of vandals

They are removing this. Someone somewhere decided that hands are convicts in need of a punishing. All that paint that got fired from cocked fingertips will be erased. Sometimes buildings are protected like bodies, but someone always gets in. Call it a rummage. Call it a bomb threat. Call it infiltration of societal disintegration. At some point, skin gets written on like tagged windows or carved benches. On arms, pronounce the nicknames of suspicious life. On thighs, there are syllables that should have been forgotten but in all these scribbles, stories allow room for the movement. So move.

 

 

i like your hair.

 

These roots are well-traveled. Find them on bathroom floors and curled against the upward slope of staircases. I have detached many threads on ferry trips and early morning commute subway rides. When the man beside me creates musical interlude of keratin clip from fingernails, I rip knots out of scalp and drop my own acquired and collected bits of fibrous proteins.

I like your hair.

It was once less cherry. It was not always bloodied and bright. It used to be lighter. It used to be feminine and fair. The curls were once more potent. It did not always have its own calling card. There was a time I introduced other rainbows into it such as blues and purples. There was a pink period. Brief stage of orange. Do not forget the burgundy. It has never been all black. There was that time I shaved it all away.

Can I touch it?

A lover rubbed my pieces together between her wide, musical palms and traveled twists into my hair. She summoned the bees and borrowed teaspoons of wax to keep it all together. These dreadlocks still remain and some have birthed new ones. I visit them on evenings when my fingers are bored and looking to explore old textures. They feel like rope or scratches. They remind me of maps, encompassing moments and detours.

Is that your real hair color?

I once fell in love with a human because of their hair. It was the puff of brown smoke emitting off large scalp that first wooed me. Then words and the music which followed. My hands would get lost in the thick, brown aroma of meals migrating. Another human lured me in with spiked mohawk. Died black then red and climbing in varied heights and shapes. There is something so romantic about texture. The culture or religion of hair. Prayers caught up in each flake of dandruff or underscore. One lover had a patch of grey competing with earthy brown. Another preferred to bleach.

All of this is borrowed. The color (from a tube and bottle). The length (from time and persistence). The curls (from the ones that came before the ones I met). It is political and personal. My hair is mismatched and much of it derives from lack of attention and planning. Combs are a foreign object and coconut oil has become like air breathing its way into each split end.

Yes. This is my real hair color. If real means born from yesterday and the many days before it. If real means what feels best to me. If real means what makes me feel most alive. All of this is dead past the roots, so why not experiment. So why not question what it can do. So why not explore the lineage of its flexibility. Why not.

how to remain amidst the push.

In these parts, you may notice the aggressiveness of air quality. Those are a particular type of peanut roasting in the aroma of buttered honey. That is halal and those spices will dig their way into your belly and cause you to swoon for blocks. That is urine. This is cologne-covered-man and that is a gust of taxi pollution. What do you call that force of salt on twisted bread and I think that over there is a pizza truck where you may fall in love with the lust of real Italian sauce.

Here is this city, in this borough, breathe in. Forgot about the belligerence of food options. And sometimes the humans forget to bathe or simply cannot due to lack of water and tub. But make room for them. And sometimes the rain-drenched-concrete emits an aroma of sour and stun. Make room for that too.

If you get lost, follow the trail of bread crumbs and chicken wings before the pigeons pick them up. These lights color the air, creating a fragrance of rainbow and blind. And there is a scent to New York rubber, scratched tire wheels and bicycles bruised by potholes. None of this is deodorized.  Nothing is sterile here. Put away your anti-bacterial lotion; this city is meant to penetrate your nostrils and follow you home.

neptune

*****

On the 4 train, the cold air pounds away the sweat rummaging each fold and flap of my body. I fall asleep in drips. I realize that exhaustion has become like another bruise on my arm: purple. heavy. persistent in its spread. A well-dressed black man in pinstripes and electronic book on lap reads my shoulder. He tells me I am deep. Or, my skin is. We talk about restrictions and the ways in which we are forced out of our bodies by men with an agenda for our construction sites.                 (I am paraphrasing.) 

He says: Who has the right to another’s vagina but you? I have a daughter, he announces. I need to be aware of what can be fought away from her.

*****

 

I almost obtained a male analyst.

I almost moved in with a man who loved the way my breath tasted.

I almost ate that banana today from the farm stand in Queens, until I remembered that two months ago, I bought some strawberries that may have given me chapped lips and a questionable rash, so instead I fed it to the mouth of garbage can on subway platform.

I almost quit my job again.

I almost bought a ticket to Minnesota to live with a Rebel in a yurt.

I almost removed all the particles of what I once was to find the gravity beneath.

****

We get off at the same stop and I wish him a good night as I travel from underground toward the evening summer steam. I haven’t seen the moon in days, though two nights ago I left the nudity of my bedroom to walk inside the tap-dancing rain to search for what I once was. I only got to the end of the block, then turned around.

 

***

I failed mathematics sophomore year of high school from forty-two absences and never reached the level of calculus. Even the quadratic equation cannot guide me to understand the pattern and comparable weight of mosquito bites on my limbs. They favor my right leg: thigh, calf, ankle. How flavorful is the fur that erodes me.

***

Before man read my body on Brooklyn bound subway, I digested a pint of poetry in east village bar full of music makers and spoken words. Briefly fell in love with a singer whose armpits had shadows like mine. Before I left, I kissed a human whose hunger for Canada will soon take her there. I sung my way toward E. 14th.

***

 

I call this callus: Neptune.

*****

Upon realizing the strength of my backstory, I swept up my curls and climbed them onto the highest peak of my skull. Curved my back into a cape. No one can see me, I thought. Then, I hummed apologies until my throat collapsed like a poorly constructed bridge and that man who noticed the book implanted in my skin will tell his daughter that bodies should never be censored, nor evenings nor love nor magic……..

 

HOWL!

Today, we HOWL! toward the moon & skyscrapers & buskers & artists & ghosts of New York City to celebrate Allen Ginsberg and the words that still linger and the words that have been birthed out of his death.

The Soapbox Poets gather. We speak UP and OUT. Interrupt us with the roots of your own discoveries.

Find us (Dan Dissinger, Megan DiBello, Aimee Herman, Sam Jablon, Francesca Coppola, Sarah Nolan and more and more) at Tompkins Square Park from noon to 6pm or until we run out of breath. TODAY. NOW. 

if you see something say something

I am joined by the rats. They have relay races over rails, creating music with their teeth against candy wrappers. I watch them. I watch others watch them. We take secret bets as to which rats will make it past this day, this week. Which are the strong ones. The smart ones. One tears open a bag of chips that fell to its death from human’s hands and sharp teeth make a percussion sound as it nibbles and attacks.

When they scurry over our countertops or across rooms in apartments, we scream. Here, we accept them as long as they stay below where the tracks are. We are the voyeurs above. Feeling brave as their presence does not shake us. I give each one a name. Wonder about its family. Is it happy. Does it wonder about me.

A woman with black-and-grey newspaper skin, crumpled and delicate, spits out pieces of candy bar toward the rats. One bite for them one bite for her. Her spits are angry– less about sharing and more about target practice. She spills coffee toward the tracks– a determined splash. And I wonder if she wants to clean them with her caffeine or get them addicted like her. She takes a sip then spills again. As B train approaches at Dekalb station in Brooklyn, she throws the rest of her coffee toward the rats to drown them before the electric shocked subway arrives.

nadal oodh

How much am I willing to pay for peace?

On my way toward an uptown pub to meet a friend, I inhale the scent of meditation. Outside, there are scarves, carefully folded colors in piles like square clouds. I am early to meet him, so I stroll inside, expanding my lungs as aromatic smoke covers me.

I am brought back to Bob Dylan in tape deck of two door hatchback; I am fifteen. I am a passenger in a car driven by Farrah, the first hippie I ever secretly loved. Her skin was drenched in patchouli and her hair gathered in knots and all those freckles and her long skirts and nose ring. At that time, we both volunteered at the same place, spending hours with humans who were placed in a home because their minds grew differently than other’s. We completed puzzles and drew, listened to music, and donated our time to people who– for the better part of the day– were ignored.

In this tiny store full of homemade candles and tinctures and sweet-scented oils, I spoke with the singular worker about slowing down.

“This is the first moment of my day where I am stopping just to breathe.”

He rubbed a package of incense together and asked me to inhale.

“This is nadal oodh,” he said.

And my knees began to curve from the musk mangling up my insides in the most exquisite way. It was far too pricey, so I began to look around. I breathed in nag champa and frankincense and guggul and camphor. My fingers settled on sandalwood and as we exchanged currency (dollars, receipt), he grabbed one stick of nadal oodh and gave it to me.

“Fill your space with this,” he said. “Save it for a moment when you need your air to tell you things.”

I am percolating in ruminations. My soul has been searching it’s self and sometimes I think about joining in. I am not sure where I should be, but I need to be somewhere.

what it feels like to think about wombs

How strong am I? Forget visible muscle definition or the amount of weight I can possibly bench press if I were to ever try.

What I mean is, can I juggle toddler, stroller, large bag full of necessities such as extra pair of pants, underwear, wipes, books, snacks, water…and can I hold onto all of this while reaching into back pocket to retrieve wallet where metro card lives in order to swipe us through. And can we make it through turnstile in time before it clicks closed.

I have met many women who feel the urge to produce. It’s more of a yearning. A need to push freshly squeezed baby out from between thighs after nine months of baking inside of body. A need to feel/see their genetics drip out from various movements or gestures. They want to experience the birthing process full-force. I have never been this person.

There have been times in my life I put myself at risk for procreating. But this is not about that. This is about feeling what it feels like to be a mother (or appear to be a parent/guardian) to the gentlest little boy I call nephew as we searched through an entire day together: one adventure at a time.

Here is something: as a childless human, I travel everyday and watch other people’s children on the subway on the streets in the grocery store in museums. I notice the variety of energy levels and communication skills. Some parents soothe the cries from high-pitched screams to laughter. Some look away and have lost the ability to remain calm. I try hard to notice, rather than judge. As a non-parent my voice/ my opinion is weightless.

So on this magical day of exploration with my nephew, I realized how hard a parent must work just to get on a subway or fill time while we wait to get into filled-to-capacity children’s museum.

I have always adored children; took care of other’s as a nanny for many years. I wonder –especially now as body tick tick ticks toward that time– why I still have no desire to birth.

As an aside, I fear my genetics.

Between you and me, I cannot afford my own care; how can I possibly afford another’s.

Does it depend on partners and love and if I met the right one would I want to make babies now now now?

Could it be that none of the partners I choose produce sperm and I’ve yet to make any of my own so so so….it’s going to be slightly more complicated than just waking up pregnant one day.

*

A woman…a mother…helps me up the two flights of stairs at Bergen Street with sleeping nephew in stroller and I do not ask, she offers. We wouldn’t want to wake him, she said.

I wonder all day if people think I am his mom and I like people thinking I am responsible enough or brilliant enough to produce this earth-warming boy.

I’ve thought about adoption. Maybe when I am ready if I’m ever ready. Because when my womb aches is when I’m with children who will make up songs with me for over an hour while we wait to get inside a museum. Or a boy I know who lives by the mountains in Boulder, Colorado who finds as much joy in farmer’s markets as I do. Or two great kids in Denver who devour books like cake.

My ears are clean, so when the ticking starts, I’ll hear it. And I’ve got health insurance in my future and soon I’ll have my own place and maybe maybe maybe sperm will just be a formality because maybe love (when it exists and when it’s prepared) can produce a life too.