Greenpoint, October, 2015

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Ecological Approach

Kabaty Forest, Warsaw  (Source: CobraVerde, Wikicommons)
Ryszard Kapuscinski was a Polish writer known more for journalism than poetry. From Notes, his first collection of poetry, Ecology" (Ekologia) offers an alternative response to being stuck or broken down from Brecht's "Changing the Wheel" (in yesterday's post).

And when we are stuck in the ruts of a Polish road
that means
we are stuck for good in the sands of history
and even the horses of our dreams whipped on
will not be able to achieve a single step
do not curse the earth
do not condemn the world or fate
a bird flies
the forest rustles
a dung beetle a cockchafer a ladybug wander the path

life goes on
we exist

(tr. BTB)

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Waiting Game

Waiting for the bus--on Nicollet Mall, 1973 (Donald Emmerich)
We return to our summer series, Poetry in (Slow) Motion with a poem that concerns that unavoidable condition for the subway or bus passenger, waiting. Waiting for a train or bus to arrive, or waiting for the one you're on to get moving again. Bertolt Brecht's "Changing the Wheel" (tr. Michael Hamburger) seems a good antidote or at least poses a good question for the would be commuter:

I sit by the roadside.
The driver changes the wheel.
I do not like the place I come from.
I do not like the place I am going to.
Why with impatience do I
Watch him changing the wheel?

The photo above is from the Environmental Protection Agency's DOCUMERICA series, which set out to "photographically document subjects of environmental concern" (compiled 1972-1977).

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Tornado Alley?

Driving back from Maine, fog gave way to light rain, then downpour crossing into New Hampshire. WBZ radio reported a tornado warning for southeast Essex County, MA. Rarity of rarity this far east. Sure enough, a tornado did indeed cut through Revere, damaging hundreds of homes (Globe story here). Driving southwest on Rte. 495, on the other side of the county, the tail end of the storm was visible ahead, giving way to a beautiful summer day.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Mountain Beach Road

Another Richard Tuttle print pairing. When Pressure Exceeds Weight (2012), from the retrospective at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, and Seawall Beach on the Phippsburg peninsula in midcoast Maine. Unless you have a permit, you can only get to the beach by walking over Morse Mountain. It's not much of a mountain, and the walk takes only 40 minutes or so, but it keeps the beach from ever having more than a few people on it at a time. (The greenheaded horseflies also discourage the human population.)

Here's the beach:
And here's the road that brings you there:

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Not a Road?

Above, central image from Richard Tuttle's print series, Dawn, Noon, Dusk: Paper (1), Paper (2), Paper (3) (2002), which I saw yesterday at a beautiful retrospective of Tuttle's prints at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art. The title suggests it portrays noon. And there is absolutely no suggestion the blue line represents a road. Still, I couldn't help associating it with the setting sun seen from Rte. 209 as it winds into Popham Village, Phippsburg, Maine.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Swimming Hole Road

Parker Head Road on Maine's Phippsburg peninsula. For the first time in my experience there's a sign at the head of the road: "Detour. Road closed. Local traffic only." I've driven it many times but never walked it until today. Or part of, that is, we never made it to Parker Head. Here the road approaches a narrow bridge that connects Center Pond with the Kennebec River.
The bridge is equipped with steps into the water on the pond side for locals who use it as a swimming hole--like the mother and daughter who arrived with their towels just as we were passing.
It is also equipped with a a fish ladder for local alewife. Good for people, good for fish.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Beach Road Getaway

Here's the road that runs between Weekapaug Beach and the salt pond behind it. The beach is for Weekapaug (one village of Westerly, RI) residents only. But if you get on before 8 and off before 9, as I did yesterday morning, you can enjoy it free of hassle--and of other people, by and large.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Jailhouse Road

Church Street, Norwich, Connecticut. One of a handful of streets that comprise Jail Hill. Early on, a community of free Blacks, brought to Norwich originally by the vicious "triangle trade" of slaves, sugar, and rum. Later a pulpit for abolition of slavery and an important stop on the Underground Railroad. The building on Main St. below is the Dunkin' Donuts I worked at in high school, long out of business. How exactly does a Dunkin' Donuts go out of business anyway?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

New Road/Old Road

Rte. 95 seen in the distance from Rte. 3 (Nooseneck Hill Road), Hopkinton, RI. Below: Rte 3 before completion of I-95 in the 1950s, it was one of the main roads (along with Rte 1) from southern Rhode Island to Providence.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

New Road

Your correspondent is on vacation for the next 8 days. Signal permitting, I'll share some of the roads I meet along the way. This one is Corning Road in Preston, Connecticut. Though I grew up (from 9 on)  in this little town in the southeastern corner of the state, I'd never been on Corning Road. I was following a sign from the main road out of Norwich (Rte. 165) for "farm fresh vegetables." A turn off from Long Society Road (no expessway itself) took me deeper into the woods and fields.

I finally reached the farm (above). "Is this Preston or Norwich?" I asked the kid working there. "Preston, but some people say part of the road is in Norwich." "I didn't know there were still roads like this left in Preston." "Shouldn't be," he said. Probably won't be for much longer, by the look of the McMansion I passed a hundred yards earlier on.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Paradise Cove Road to the Poconos

A few years ago, I saw a classified ad for a house trailer on a piece of land in the Poconos. The price was reasonable, somewhere around $13,000. It was on a pond or lake. I clipped it out and stuck it inside the case of a CD--now buried in a stack somewhere or given away to Goodwill. Retirement plan taken care of.
Paradise Cove Road (Rockford Files pilot)
I found out about James Garner's death yesterday watching TV, where else?  I wasn't a huge Rockford Files fan but the show managed to imprint itself anyway. Especially the idea of living modestly (minus the Firebird) to be someplace beautiful. On the beach in Malibu, in the Poconos, or maybe Biscuit City, RI.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Everybody's Talkin' at Me

Perhaps it's time to introduce a few regular, rhymed poems into our summer series, Poetry vs. Motion (MTA Edition). Here's one I'd love to see on an F or G.
Walter Feldman (11.5x19.5in)
"The Bird" by Robert Creeley

What did you say to me
   that I had not heard.
She said she saw
   a small bird.

Where was it.
   In a tree.
Ah, he said, I thought
    you spoke to me.

This poem makes me think of so many conversations these days to which I seem to be a party. Someone is talking. Someone is always talking--often it's me. But is anybody listening? Am I? Not necessarily a New York phenomenon. And yet...

The image is a sample panel from Walter Feldman's marble mosaic, completed in Rome in 1956 while he was on a Fulbright Fellowship. Emeritus professor of art at Brown University, Feldman has collaborated with many poets in creating beautiful books.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Cloud Hypotenuse

July, 2014
On the upgrade to the Kosciuszko Bridge. Lots of lines to contemplate while stopped in traffic.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Getting Rich on the BQE

Back on the BQE this week after almost a month away. The familiar slog through the Woodside Gully before you can even see the Kosciuszko Bridge--must less cross it. Yesterday morning, after a couple of rainy or overcast days, he sun broke out and I saw this NYS lottery billboard in a new light.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

It Beats the Darkness

Your train sits in the tunnel. "Train traffic ahead," the conductor explains, "we apologize for the delay." Or worse, a sick passenger. Or worse yet, a police investigation. You slump into your seat or hang over those lucky enough to have seats.  Someone catches your eye. A bit unkempt but also somehow familiar. Did he perhaps go to your high school, dropping out without anybody really noticing? Or maybe he was the cashier at the car wash? He holds your gaze, and says to you, very quietly and calmly:

your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is a light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
know them.
take them.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
in you.

"The Laughing Heart," by Charles Bukowski. Read by Tom Waits.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Little Noir Music

Rainy nights bring dark thoughts and, sometimes, great poems. One topic you are not likely to find on the MTA's Poetry in Motion series is crime. Well, no one wants to think about crime on the subway, or do they? Have we erased if from our NYC vocabulary? Does anyone even use the word "mugging" anymore? Gregory Corso's "Birthplace Revisited" is about that and a whole lot more.
I stand in the dark light in the dark street
and look up at my window. I was born there.
The lights are on; other people are moving about.
I am with raincoat, cigarette in mouth,
hat over eye, hand on gat.
I cross the street and enter the building.
The garbage cans haven't stopped smelling.
I walk up the first flight; Dirty Ears
aims a knife at me . . .
I pump him full of lost watches.
Corso was born in Greenwich Village in 1930. He spent time in orphanages, foster homes, Bellevue Hospital, and, at 16, was incarcerated at Clinton State Prison for theft. Allen Ginsberg wrote in the introduction to Corso's Gasoline (1957), "He's probably the greatest poet in America, and he's starving in Europe."

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Buffalo Beauty

I rarely find anything to connect to in the Times Business section. But Sunday's version sometimes brings a little treasure, like  photograph for a story on imminent expiration of the Federal Highway Trust Fund. It concerns a Republican-led gimmick to link lower pension set-asides for employees to a bump in taxes to replenish the fund. No surprise. The real pleasure is Brendan Bannon's photograph of road repair along I-290 in Buffalo.
(Photo: Brendan Bannon for The New York Times)
When I saw it first in B&W in the print edition, I thought for a moment it was a photograph from the 60s or 70s given the beautiful Plymouth Fury (or so I believe) gleaming in the sun. But of course, the pylons and barrels and yellow rental truck belie that theory. Still beautiful in color from the digital edition. The car is in much better shape than the roads, which of course is the real story here.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Parallel Park Avenue

The Department of Sanitation has a depot in East Harlem, on Park Ave. in the low 30s. Trucks are parked under the Metro North tracks and on the street. Parallel parking for behemoths?

Snowplows look like creatures washed up on the beach as temps hit the mid-80s. I'm guessing the DOS guys don't move them on alternate side days.

The doors of many cabs are left open. The temptation to climb in was strong, but I resisted.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

One of Those Summer Afternoons (New York - São Paolo)

Our summer series, Poetry in Animation, continues with "That Little Something" by Charles Simic (for Li-Young Lee)

The likelihood of ever finding it is small.
It's like being accosted by a woman
And asked by her to look for a pearl
She lost right here in the street.

She could be making it all up,
Even her tears, you say to yourself,
As you search under your feet,
Thinking, Not in a million years....
Photo: Paolo Gasparini (São Paolo, 1972)
It's one of those summer afternoons
When one needs a good excuse
To step out of a cool shade.
In the meantime, what ever became of her?

And why, years later, do you still,
Off and on, cast your eyes to the ground
As you hurry to some appointment
Where you are now certain to be late?

Here we have a title for a photograph that could itself be a poem: "This Sky We See Here" (Acá este cielo que vemos). Paolo Gasparini's image from São Paolo, 1972. Part of the exhibit, Urbes Mutantes: Latin American Photography 1944-2013at the International Center for Photography.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Death Takes the M4

Is a subway car the place to ponder mortality? Is there any better? Maybe one, a bus stop, preferably on a Sunday afternoon. We resume our response to the MTA's Poetry in Motion series with David Ferry's "At the Bus Stop; Eurydice,"
Harry Callahan, Detroit (1943)

The old lady's face,
Who knows whose it was?
The bus slid by me,
Who in the world knows me?

She was amazed, amazed.
Can death really take me?
The bus went away.
It took the old lady away.

What is the quintessential subway rider's question? "Who in the world knows me?" is as good a candidate as any.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Signs and Wonders

From the Atacama Desert, Chile.
Leaving Socaire
No passing. This is reserved for very few spots. In general, hills and curves are not an impediment to passing.

School crossing. From a distance, it looked like a woman carrying an upside down watering can. Just a case of decal peel. Here's the real thing, with a very quaint fire hydrant from the village of Socaires:

Children at play. Futbal, what else?

Animal crossing means vicuña crossing. The wild cousin of the llama, we saw quite a few vicuñas grazing peacefully. It didn't seem likely that they could leap as pictured above.

The sign I wish I'd photographed. Having driven 10 kms out of San Pedro to reach the well-marked turn-off for Valle de la Luna, and another two on an unsealed road, we discovered this exit to the park was cerrado. The other road at the fork had a sign, in Spanish and English: "No passage. Mine fields." Backtracking a few kilometers to arrive at the more obscurely marked entrance to the park was well worth it.
Valle de la Luna

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Calama Settles for Copper

When I told our Chilean colleagues that we would fly to Calama for our free days, they did a double take. Then I explained we would drive from there to San Pedro, an oasis in the Atacama desert. Everyone was relieved. "Calama is the place you run away from," they said. And yet, getting off the plain directly onto the tarmac of the tiny Calama airport, in the middle of winter, ....

Our flight there, on Sunday afternoon, was almost entirely made up of men. They had the look of people who'd done it before. Miners, construction workers, and possibly astronomers at the ALMA observatory ("mostly Russian, mostly men," our guide told us on the way to the Chaxa lagoons from San Pedro.)

On the way back, the two-hour delay meant waiting for boarding in a temporary (?) gate area: Plenty of men hunched over portable devices watching or listening to the Brazil-Germany match. "Cinco!" one fellow announced to those of us in line. Germany had stuck its fifth goal in the first half of what turned out to be a shellacking of the home team. Everybody was in good spirits, since Brazil had eliminated Chile's fine side on penalty kicks in the last round.
(Photo: T. Blythe)
Calama, as a city, would not exist if it were not for the copper deposits in its outlying regions, which gives the desert a greenish tinge. In the rotary by the airport, the city honors its provider. A sun and a bar of copper.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Road Hogs

For the first year or so of BTB, I used Nellie Mae Rowe's Pig on Expressway (1980) as my header art. Rowe, who died in 1982, lived in Vinings, George, just across the Chattahoochee River from Atlanta. Her house was lodged between its two very busy expressways: I-75 and I-285.

A more recent discovery, here is Kurt Knobelsdorf's Swine, Man and Van. The artist lives and works in Miami. Is there something particularly (or peculiarly) southern about pigs on the road?

Friday, July 4, 2014

Sandwich Board

Doing some research on the Jane Bowles-Staten Island-Perth Amboy connection, I came across this 2000 photograph by Eli Reed of the Mercedes Cafe. The diner is on Smith Street, around the corner from the train station. A Google search indicates it is still going strong with good reviews for the Cubano.

I love hand-drawn items on menu boards. The sandwiches on these are great examples of the form.

They put me in mind of a piece I saw at the NYPL earlier this summer, All American Sunset, Jerry Uelsmann (1971).

What is more all American than a Cubano or a Media Noche?

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Magic Sand Castles

Coincidence of reading The Magic Mountain and visiting Watch Hill on a foggy morning.

It's easy to connect the beach chairs set out for the well-heeled (or well flip-flopped) guests at the Ocean House with the common lounging area at Dr. Behren's Berghof sanatorium.

But what to make of Taylor Swift in her cliffside manse? A Hans Castorp for our times, wearing her emotions on her sleeve? Easier to imagine her as Clavdia Chauchat, the object of Hans' intense emotions, in "the lace peignoir that she wore on warm days and that only added to her special fascination--late as always, slamming the door, smiling, both arms lifted slightly at different angles, standing there at attention to present herself to the dining hall."
Taylor Swift's flag
Whatever the case, how could a flatlander ever understand what life is like for those "up there"?