Day 19

These are the lyrics for a song I wrote for some friends who went overseas to adopt a little girl. I never recorded it and in fact have forgotten the melody, but I hope I have it recorded somewhere, because I’d like to resurrect the song.

Hey we’re coming soon love to bring you home
on tall ships and on small planes
from land to land they make their way
they don’t rest night or day

oh the land sweeps wide and the city’s full of lights
there’s noise out on the corner but it’s quiet here tonight
sleep now weary baby when you wake you’ll be at home
soon you won’t be having to sail anymore alone

see our silver ship shines in the sun
like a knife cut through the skies
got your mom and dad on either side
the world looks new, seen through your eyes

on the land sweeps wide and the city’s full of lights
there’s noise out on the corner but it’s quiet here tonight
hey there pretty sailor you make us a family
i’ve sailed in enough ships the rest can sail on without me

your eyes shine brighter than the stars
ill shine on you if you shine on me
will you grow up next to me my love
grow up strong grow up free

oh the land sweeps wide and the city’s full of lights
there’s noise out on the corner but it’s quiet here tonight
sleep now weary baby when you wake you’ll be at home
soon you won’t be having to sail anymore alone

Day 18

Another busy day without a lot of time to write. I hung out with Field Horne in Saratoga Springs this morning, had an early lunch at a cafe in town where i had some really good soup called Mulligatawny. It was new to me. I ordered two bowls. Also they had his grape/cherry jelly which was to die for. I drove to Middlebury, did a little wakling in the woods, and hung out with my hosts and friends here, Matthew and Deborah Dickerson. I played a gig in what i guess is the student center. It was fun. I like being around young people. I used to play a lot more colleges, and I miss it. The youthful idealism is what I like, I think. When you’re young you still think anything is possible. On my best days, I still think anything is possible.

Here’s an image from walking in the woods today.

Day 17 of 31

Not a lot of time to write today. I’m renting a car and driving to Saratoga Springs. I’m having dinner and staying with an old friend, Field Horne. I haven’t seen Field in a long time. He used to help book a storied Folk Club called Caffe Lena. As former director of the Saratoga County Historical Society and curator of the National Museum of Racing, Field knows a lot about Saratoga Springs, Horseracing, and many other subjects, including were to get an all-you-can-eat dinner for $9.00. I’m hoping to arrive in SS by dinnertime.

Day 16

Hallelujah for this. The loud sudden blast of horn from a SUV impatiently swerving around a car in the left hand turn lane. An assault on the senses. An uptick in the heart rate, a swell of anger, maybe a quick curse on the lips and then an inner reminder to be thankful for the sense of sound, sight, hope, breath.

Breathe. Express gratitude that the one who makes ears and makes impatient humans who can’t wait to get from this patch of asphalt to that patch of asphalt, from this red light to that one. Maybe there’s a bass thumping. The guy who makes assholes and who made you an asshole also made forgiveness and forgiving and breathing.

I notice the neighbor has a bird feeder. How did i not know this? I have some field glasses and look at the feeder. 2 brown sparrows, one greyish red cardinal. A jay suddenly swoops in and drives the others away. The jay is the SUV of birds, coming in with a blast, scaterring seed and feeders and driving away.

Do birds know forgiveness? Naw, I think. Little dinosaurs they just know pecking at seeds and jerky head movements and shitting in a little squirt and oh yeah flying and chirping their programmed call. Predestined. Those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of…Jay. Or Sparrow.

But what about mockingbirds. They break the mold and can sound like whatever the hell they want to. Jays, sparrows, cell phone, truck-backing-up.

Once a mockingbird sat on a post outside and chirbled on endlessly in the middle of the night. It reverberated through the street. I got my phone, went outside, and recorded him, transfixed. I have it on a file somewhere on the cloud. This birdsong in a cloud.

Mockingbirds have free will
sing what they want
for good or for ill.

And what what do I have?

Lord muster in me joy, a great swell of notes, let em cascade shining out sounding like abandon, joy, sun, gratitude, marigolds. Let what I want be what you want. Infuse and draw it out of me.

The sun comes and goes away. When it’s here it paints the the treetops and the top of the garage liquid gold. I notice a commotion by the birdhouse. I grab my glasses and train them on the place.

It takes a sec to find the right spot. On the way I see: Pots holding geraniums, marigold, chimney bricks, sandy shingles. A cat — the cat — cleaning himself on the garage roof. Angles, shadows, wires carrying electricity to keep the lights on, roof peaks stretching out to a white sky, and

fat sparrows
plump in the sun.
They will fly away
when the big Jay comes.

Day 15

I do a fair bit of writing on Facebook. Today I’m cheating a little bit (hey I wrote these introductory sentences!) on my writing-every-day challenge and posting something that I posted on Facebook back on July 6.

I wasn’t originally going to do anything for July 4th because I was tired. But then I decided I needed to get out of the house, so I went for a walk. On the sidewalks, people were out. They had little grills set out, were grilling hamburgers and hot dogs, Boom boxes playing mainly salsa and merengue. And the most quintessentially NY-summertime thing: A fire hydrant which had been opened up and was spraying water (“Champagne of the Catskills.” (Come on, you *know* New Yorkers got to be arrogant about their water. And I’ll admit it’s pretty good.)) through which kids in their bathing suits were running. Lawn chairs set up for the older folks. You could see each generation, from grandparents to little children.

Then I walked to Prospect Park, which is a familiar destination. Usually it’s peppered with a few people, but it was *packed.* It was *teeming* with crowds of people. Barbecuing. On one side of the path was a crowd of West Indian and Jamaican people, listening to Reggae and hip hop, and on the other side a throng of Latinos listening to merengue and — I guess you call it Norteno. Mostly families. There were a few white folks peppered here and there, not many. Mostly single and mostly younger than I.

I had something in my shoe and sat down to get it out, and started to pray and meditate and as I did and as I started to breathe, I started to feel a part of it all, not apart. There was a joy. I’m so used to New Yorkers being on their way somewhere, disregarding each other (In Manhattan there is a culture of being seen — In Brooklyn there seems to be a culture of disregard, or of keeping to yourself and your own.) But there was a palpable joy. People were just enjoying each other. People had their guards down. Kids running around. And — this is probably a lot less fraught with meaning than I am making it — but to me it was very meaningful: People in American flag garb. I know things go in and out of fashion, but to me, desperate to love and believe in my country, I seized on the meaning which inhered in the American flags emblazoned on folks’ t-shirts, shorts, bandanas and bikini tops. I saw a whole family decked out in red white and blue. They had obviously coordinated and the girls had red white and blue ribbons in their hair. I don’t know how much thought these people put into the meaning in their outfits. Maybe they just did red white and blue cause that’s what you do on July 4th, but I took great comfort and encouragement in it.

There was a family who kept taking turns taking pictures of each other and I offered to take a picture of all of them — usually something I offer to tourists, but I knew these people were not tourists. They were Brooklynites — my neighbors. They accepted, and it felt good, as it always does, to offer this service. I counted, like you do. 1, 2, 3. They were gorgeous — glowing. I handed the phone back and they thanked me, flipping through their photos.

I continued walking to the monument to the Maryland 400. The Maryland 400 were a regiment of soldiers who saved the American army in the battle of Long island by holding off the British long enough for Washington to escape. Washington did a bunch of escaping, not least because the British didn’t have the heart to pound us into dust when they had the chance — they hoped that by treating us with kid gloves we’d eventually surrender.

I know we are a nation of contradictions. I remember the British Lord who remarked about the irony of slaveholders howling about liberty. We’ve always been hypocrites, from the get-go. We never live up to our ideals. We think pretty highly of ourselves. American exceptionalism can be obnoxious.

And yet, the ideals are there and men and women did die for them. Is it naive of me to think that I am free and that I am free because men and women died for my freedom? I do think that. Is it naive and romantic and simplistic? I know it is. But we are an eminently decent and generous people. And we can’t give up on the best vision for ourselves, even when — especially when — we fail to live up to it.

I snapped a photo of this monument and then I walked home, encouraged. Encouraged by the multitudinousness of humanity. Encouraged that a teeming cauldron of people can, did — for me, anyway — emanate pure joy. That we can believe in America, for a minute anyway. That the American Spirit isn’t dead, the experiment persists, and is worth fighting for. E pluribus unum.

PS: If you want to read a great book about the Maryland 400 please check out “Washington’s Immortals: The Untold Story of an Elite Regiment Who Changed the Course of the Revolution.” A *great* book.

Day 14

I’m walking with my Father to the dollar store, to see if they have reading glasses. If they don’t, we will walk further to the Rite Aid, where I know for sure they have reading glasses.

I’m glad for this short journey, because it’s early in the evening — too early to go to bed. And this gives us something to do. Enough to do. We walk down Foster Avenue in Brooklyn. It’s Fall. It’s been cooler the past couple of nights, but there’s a slight late summer humidity persisting. My dad is walking fast. Faster than I might want to, but suddenly I’m game and walk fast too.

I have to go to the bank. Something I do a lot, but it takes on a certain piquancy with my father watching. He goes to the dollar store alone while I head to the brightly lit Bank Of America ATM enclosure to make a deposit. There are two young women in there when I enter. One is explaining something to the other one in an insistent yet forbearing and slightly amused tone. The other young woman is silent, listening. I look at them and the explaining one shrugs and gives me a what-are-you-gonna-do look as if I were in on the conversation — a trusted third friend instead of a rank stranger. I am a little caught off guard by her friendliness and offer an unready smile as they walk out.

My dad comes back to tell me, mid-deposit, that the one store didn’t have what he wanted and that he’s going two doors down to the other dollar store. I say ok. I finish the deposit and walk down to where he is coming out of the other dollar store. They have reading glasses but they aren’t what he is looking for.

“Too bright for my old ass,” he says. This is a call-back to a couple of days before, when we were in the dollar store and a woman came in looking for lipstick. The proprietor gestured to the lipstick display, which was all of a certain brand called “sugar,” and all vividly colored. “Too bright for my old ass,” the woman said, and walked out, prompting laughter from everyone in the store. My dad and I laugh together, remembering this. “I like that dollar store,” he says, by which he means, I think, that he likes the man behind the counter. There is something disarming and down-to-earth about him.

We head to the Rite Aid — the final stop in the search for reading glasses. We suspected all along it would be the place we end up finding them. I don’t mind the extra stops because they offer more chances to hang out with my father and show him my neighborhood. Also I like seeing what’s on sale at Rite Aid. Often they have peanuts on sale for half off, and I buy a bunch of them at once. Other things I look for: V8, low-sodium campbell’s soup, cereal, and cookies. I usually leave Rite-Aid laden with unhealthy food.

My father finds some glasses he likes and I find some peanuts and granola bars. For some reason the line at this Rite Aid gets long in a hurry and stays long. The wait is often long. It was tonight, and we stood for awhile. A man iss calling for his son. I can’t understand the name. “There he is,” the man behind us offers, pointing to a young boy running toward us. The man who had called takes his son by the shoulder and steers him gently toward the checkout counter. Some of the people behind the counter are more friendly than others. When it’s my Dad’s and my turn, We get a guy I like. He rings us up and we’re done. My father and I grab our plastic bags head back out into the slightly-dank night to go home.

Day 13

This is a photograph of my mother and sister at Green-Wood cemetery in Brooklyn. Green-wood, part of the “rural cemetary” movement, was a popular destination for 19th century New Yorkers seeking respite from the city. It inspired Landscape Architect Andrew Jackson Downing to start advocating for a New York park. This was the genesis of Central Park. Downing thought it unseemly that Victorian families would be picknicking and enjoying themselves amongst the dead. I recently read a “yelp” review of Green-wood, where, over 100 years later, a user was complaining about the exact same thing.

Green-wood isn’t nearly as popular as it was in the 19th century, but I find it far superior to the parks it inspired. It’s my favorite place in the entire city. It recently attained arobretum status and offers sweeping views of New York harbor. I can spend hours walking around its 478 acres with scarcely another human in sight.

Day 12

Once again it’s the end of a long day and I really didn’t feel like writing. Didn’t, and don’t. I googled what to do when you don’t feel like writing, and the answer is basically, just force yourself to do it. There were some other answers: take a walk. (um, I’ve been walking all day). Eat something. (I’m still full from dinner). Take a deep breath. (Um, ok actually that one was good. Taking a deep breath is almost always a good idea, unless you’re swimming or in a breath-holding contest). Read some poetry. This is also really good advice. Writer, editor and writing coach Andi Cumbo-Floyd goes one step further and says read poetry and then also copy a line of poetry down to kind of get your hand and brain moving. That’s good. But I’m so tired that even amazing poetry is having no effect on me. This is why so many people write in the morning, before they have a chance to get exhausted.

On the subway today a guy had his dog in a backpack, and lots of people were smiling and taking pictures. Dogs on the subway always generate goodwill. Almost everyone likes to be nice to animals, because they don’t expect much from you or challenge you. An animal won’t hold an opinion you find detestable, unless it’s that rolling in dead things is a fun activity.

There’s a fairly new law that says dogs have to be in some kind of bag, so you see a lot of dogs in bags now on the subway. Some people get creative, like dog-in-a-backpack guy.


Day 11

My parents are still in town. It’s really nice being here with them, in my neighborhood. It’s kind of a worlds-colliding situation. Sometimes when people come to visit there’s an obligation that you have to *do* something, be doing something, and something sensorily stunning or culturally significant. But just being here is culturally significant, which is why I like living here. Plus, the energy. I’m very tempted to put quotes around that because it has become a cliche. In fact I’m hesitant to say anything about New York at all because it is a cliche. The energy, it’s a helluva town, it never sleeps, it’s the best city in the world. But I do love it and I think its claim to being the greatest city in the world is legitimate. There’s no other place like it, at least in the US. Partly because it contains so many worlds within itself. [That’s a bit rich, I’m very tempted to edit that but I guess I won’t].

I got off track. There’s often a sense when visitors come that you have to be doing something, but Mom and Dad are content to walk around, people-watch, and eat. I did a few hours of work on my laptop. Dad got a haircut at my neighborhood place which is Bengali owned and operated. Dad was very pleased with the results and Benu, the barber, was pleased we came in. The price is only $10.00 plus tip. One might think that’s very inexpensive, and it is, but I know of at least one place cheaper. DaZhong, in Chinatown. It’s only $5.00, and they do a good job.

We ate at a very nice farm to table restaurant on Cortelyou. The kind of place hipsters like to go and where they work. I’ve been accused of being a hipster myself, and I guess I kind of am. The food was really good. Then we went to CT Muffin. That’s a chain. It never disappoints. I have never been disappointed inside a CT muffin. Then we went home. It was raining very hard.

We passed a film shoot. They were filming for “Elementary,” starring Lucy Liu. Except, because of the rain, I’m not sure they were filming, but maybe waiting for the rain to stop. There were a lot of people walking around in ponchos.

I have seen Lucy Liu before, in real life, a few years ago. One of my celebrity sightings. I was walking down the street in the theater district and she exited a side stage door, followed by a small entourage. She stood there, looking imperious-in-a-good-way. That is, confident and in charge. I was surprised at how small she was, and how many freckles she had. I remember that it didn’t click in my brain instantly who she was, and I had to stand there and access my mental rolodex (an outdated term if ever there was one) to figure it out. I’m sure something in my eyes said “I know you’re someone that I know, but I can’t remember exactly who; give me a second.” And something in her eyes said “I’m Lucy Liu and I am giving you a second.” And then something in my eyes said “Got it.” And something in her eyes acknowledged that I had figured it out, at which point she walked away, her entourage in tow.

Icon (Day 10)

I held an icon damaged by sun, water, fire and time.
It was cracked, faded, warped.
I could barely make out the eyes, vaguely reminiscent of
I couldn’t think who.
Some Western hero,
A faded star of tv, silent pictures, vaudeville, or
Maybe someone from space,
a cosmonaut we weren’t taught about.
Someone so forgotten there is
no Wikipedia entry.

What had it looked like, in ages old.
What had it accomplished?
What had it been made to accomplish?
What was its destiny?

I hefted the icon in my hand.
It was light as a model airplane made of balsa,
light as a firefly
Or like a bubble from when we blew bubbles
in the front yard.
So light it might not even have existed.

I looked at it.
It looked back at me.
I liked it, clicked it,
swiped right.
Some old paint and gold leaf flecked off on my hand,
Revealing old wood underneath.
i saw its grain.
I saw a ring from
The original tree.

What do you say to something beloved that has been broken?
What reparation can I bring?
me, who can’t even drive a nail straight
or glue a wing on a Spitfire Mk VIII
without getting my fingers stuck together
or getting giddy with fumes.

Bruh, I say. Bruhhh.
It doesn’t talk back.