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Olfactory terrorism? Round about nine a.m. Gas attack or leaky line or what? –
epicenter Chelsea. Get the story from a guy waiting for his car to go legal, just like you.
Evacuations, sirens bleep-blooping. Hyperventilating populace. You’ve been cooping
in the Gray Ghost with Leslie. Looking up through the rain-dropped windshield to the
peaked brick tower tops of the seminary. Roll down windows all the way down. Deep
breath. The usual.
Home and elevator up. A neighbor on the 15th floor didn’t smell anything out of
the ordinary either – no one did where you were at: 21st and Ninth and then home via
22nd and up Eighth. She keeps parakeets too, fairly close to a window open this
morning and they haven’t turned color none.
Ask Gwen when she gets home and she reports a scent not unlike “when you’re
riding behind a funky car” permeating her school’s hallways early in the day and
dissipating gradually. In her description it’s nothing like the mecaptain lots of others
smelled or imagined they did.
Times blogger, “I hate it when the Mayor tells us that he does not
know what the problem is, but he does know it’s not dangerous…” Yes, Bloomie was
all over the airways, calmly stirring up fears, looking like a billion dollars. He’s a fine
go-figure of a man. Another blogger advises that “methane outgassing from the earth’s
crust often carries a biosmell with it.” Mmm, biosmell, that’s a keeper.
Meanwhile, sixty-three – at last count – grackles, sparrows and pigeons
discovered lying stone cold dead in the streets of downtown Austin, TX.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 980
involve digging another “reverse” bathtub, smaller, but, from an engineering
standpoint, very like its way famous cousin a couple of blocks west. And this, sayeth
the Times blandly, must be done since “there is a high water table in this part of Lower
Manhattan.” Tide’s icumen in. Lawd sing all you cuckoos. Sing while you steal some
other birds’ nest.
How to open up your eyes and not stop listening?
Can I get a witness?
How to witness, without overbearing?
This dawn was supposed to be the Manhattan solstice. But when you raised
your head at six, the rain was beating so hard on the plastic windowsills it sounded like
the cats clawing your rug. Total overcast to the east. No rosy-fingered nothin’. Not in
this latitude. So back to Land of Nod.
Some other day you’ll catch it – Gotham Stonehenge – the sun streaming directly
down the cross-streets amidst the dwellings made for people who imagine they are
gods. New York City, you know, where the vapors come up and play. Oracle of
Omphalia. Got motive. Opportunity knocks. Given time, you want to visit all her
up through the subway gratings: “Ladies and Gentlemen: After an earlier incident,
Queensbound E as in echo trains are running normally.” But are the N for Narcissus
trains still stalled, spooked by their own reflections?
Once upon a time is as good a way as any to end.
It is said that when flowing water meets an obstacle, it builds up until its volume
and strength permit it to spill around or over or under the impediment in its path.
Sometimes the blockage gets washed away, sometimes not, and the process begins
again. The obstacles the rushing water encounters do not leap up before it, but exist in
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 981
the nature of the path itself.
Once upon a time, a painter named Li Yin lived under an emperor who excelled
at accomodating the strange and exciting ways of foreigners, who – depending on
where one sat – might or might not be called invaders. Li Yin painted a mountain range
in autumn and you have to look closely at the landscape to see there are little people in
there, nearly blending with the rocky forms and undergrowth. His inscription says that
he has depicted both northern and southern cliff routes by which travelers can negotiate
the obstacles in their path. He further says that never having visited these mountains
did not deter him from painting them since he had seen them in a dream and given the
enormity of the universe, they might very well exist.
You saw this painting a long time ago in Boston, where it lives at the Museum of
Fine Arts. When you lived in Boston, briefly and unhappily, as a college freshman, a
group called the Standells had a big local, meaning New England hit. Each verse
finished with a great couplet: Because I love that dirty water / Oh, Boston, you’re my home.
Will Manhattan rise up one day – a new wrinkle on the Appalachian front? Or
will its great buildings serve as so many grottoes for marine life to swim through and
The Indians of New York harbor saw Henry Hudson’s ship, Halve Maen, appear
over the horizon. Some thought, though this is apocryphal, that it was the Manitou for
the ship resembled in some ways the Creator. One native witness saw, as the ship drew
closer, “a house of various colors… crowded with living creatures.”
Navigating the waterways of the bay, Robert Juet, Hudson’s navigator recorded
“a very good land to fall with, and a pleasant land to see…” Off the south coast of
Staten Island, he spied “many salmons, mullets and rayes, very great.” Off Coney
Island, the Halve Maen’s crew caught ten mullet “of a foote and a halfe long apeece and
a raye as great as four men could haule into the ship…”
Crossing into Bergen Neck from Staten Island they found “lands…pleasant with
grasse and flowers and goodly trees as ever we had seene, and very sweet smells came
Era y non era.
Kan ya makan.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 982
How long would it take a squadron of C-130 gunships ranged along Seventh
Avenue to reduce Penn South, and the Elliot Houses to rubble? Minutes or an hour?
would pass over my shadow
I might be imposed forever
on the maps of this city.
—Grace Paley, “At the Battery”
Memory’s a camel. Bactrian. It’s humpy ride carries you back two summers to
Sisteron, in Provence, sixty-odd miles northwest of the Côte d’Azur. There, at the
mountain-pass fortress that served as the only possible bottleneck to Napoleon’s return,
a rain squall forced the three of you to take shelter. When the tempest cleared, you
found your vehicle in the carpark looking as if it had been painted in camouflage,
covered in great splashes of mud. Sand, windborne, mixed with water at some great
altitude. Origin Africa. I who am south will move north. Sahra.
You actually buy the New York Times. The headlines don’t matter. A three
column-wide pic of Condoleezza Rice, tight close up, mouth open as if in song, right
hand raised before her in a blur. She either has been or soon will be weeping.
Testifying, she is, before the Senate, three representatives of which are pictured
immediately beneath her, more or less photo-kiosk size. Two white guys in ties and a
black man in the middle. All captured with mouths open, hands raised. The three men
still wear the masks of Senators, but Condoleezza’s mask has dropped. Only yesterday,
the paper showed her, wearing her armored suit, a warrior before the podium, bronze
helmeted, such face as showed rigid enough to bounce quarters off. But today,
something’s snapped. One straw too many. The hero’s mask fallen away. A mortal.
Who realizes she’s played the game of gods and they have used and abandoned her.
Tragic. She could be a Trojan woman. Or Iphegeneia. She’s bearing witness now.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 983
American gunships shredding Somalis. C-130s. Condoleezza know how many
thousand rounds it can fire in a second. But instead you ask her: How much more terrible
does it get? She may not tell. But she sees it, just as those without imagination are
condemned one day to meet, if only for an instant, the real. Just like us.
Rockets hit the American embassy in Athens. Pythia no longer speaks, but
vomits. A prophesy in every stomach.
Eventually the concept fails, holes spring in it and the stuff leaks out.
All that is modern buries itself in the sands of Sumer. Of Persia. Enough sand to
bury any machine. Soak up any torrent of blood. Long before the crescent fluttered on
a flag, or took the form of a Viennese pastry now identified with France, rivers made
that semi-arid land now called Near East a fertile zone. Fecundation. By any and every
means. The cycle of flood and drought. And the birthplace of beliefs that travel in far
longer timewaves than any so-called strategy.
It’s raining in New York. Wets your coat, your deforested head, your bicycle
tires, your little bell, the thousand cars around you, the delivery man’s thermal bag, the
umbrellas of the passing folk. Through the grates over the subway coffers the liquid
falls to furnish the Ailanthus trees with a bit of nourishment, or just make muck. And
in every drop that hits, you feel it: A tiny grain of sand.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 984
BOOK OF MANITOU
January 13 – March 3, 2007
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 985
Chaos should be regarded as extremely good news.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 986
Green is the new gold.
…If one is only able to advance and does not know how to retreat, or vice versa,
he is unlikely to be successful in battle and will most likely be defeated… warns Li Zi
Ming in Liang Zhen Pu, Eight Diagram Palm, 2nd Method.
creatures or things.
Red’s the new pink.
In the situation of waiting at ease for a fatigued enemy, a small force is usually
very effective, observes Li, further on in the above annotation.
Apo = a prefix from a Gk. Preposition. It usually signifies from, away from, off,
asunder, separate, as in apocope (a cutting off), apostate, apostle (one sent away).
Apocarpous (of ovaries of flowering plants – consisting of carpals [wrist, joint] that are
free from one another in buttercups or roses). Antonym = Syncarpous.
chorus while turning from the right to the left of the orchestra; hence, the strain, or part
of the choral ode, sung during this movement. Also, one section of a lyric poem or
choral ode in classical Greek drama. Sometimes used to denote a stanza of modern
If you want to apply the tip, first apply the root. Li Zi Ming recommends this in
his, 3rd Method, Stepping.
ERIC is EPIC, with augmentation.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 987
You are indispensable to yourself.
Via email, Louella Mercer offers: A cure for your problem. Pitchstone Aquinas
writes on the subject of Tear He authorized. From Quarrel railway: making Years
informed. Someone or thing writing under the nom d’algorithm National Enzyme
suggests moving Woodruff Dupe. Translate Emery finds: offensive Those drying.
And Harrison Bacon’s epistle comes titled: yellow decision hospital system.
refractions of their own selves.
One might think, given their identically colored scales that the milk snake and
the coral snake were one in the same. Yet the former is quite harmless and the latter,
deadly. The trick to telling them apart lies in the order of their bands. Hence the Texas
rhyme: Red touch black friend of Jack, red touch yellow kill a fellow. Jump, me sons and
Three days ago, January 16, 2007, China announced it possesses foreign reserves
valued at $1 trillion. They begin testing a thermal fusion reactor nicknamed “the
The problem with Israel is that it is real. Better to have remained a dream.
Anarchist is fine so far as it goes. You’ll answer to it as well as any other epithet.
But it literally means no ruler, or without a ruler, whereas for you, sovereignty inheres
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 988
at a whole ‘nother level. A different relationship of man and master, lord and vassal,
within and amongst the selves.
What if the condition we call strife or conflict is seen as a discordancy of
emotional or cultural energy – a kind of atmospherics, an engine of weather in all its
changes? Les temps.
In the film Ridicule, the petitioner-hero awaits his opportunity with extraordinary
perseverance. Finally, a chance encounter in the gardens of Versailles with the King
and his retinue. “Make a witticism,” demands the King, “I’ve heard you are most
amusing.” Silence. “Go ahead, say something witty.” His patience wears thin.
“About what, your majesty?”
Laughter from the courtiers. The poor fellow has cooked his goose now.
The petitioner takes a breath and replies:
“But the King is no subject.”
A beat, then explosions of mirth, from all except the petitioner and the King, to
whom this consummate play on words must be explained. Whereupon he laughs too.
It’s way better in French. So much so that it is almost a crime to write it here in
Rene Riffaud, one of France’s last surviving WWI veterans dies at the age of 108.
In an interview a few months ago, he described the close of the war:
“We were guarding a bridge. An officer arrived and told us that the armistice
had just been signed. We went to town to celebrate, to eat bread that wasn’t blackened,
and we amused ourselves by watching the flights of geese taking off to go and bathe in
Riffaud, born in Tunisia, never applied for veteran’s benefits. When he was 107,
his granddaughter filled out the form for him.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 989
never engaged in military discussions. I was more worried with living than looking
back to the past.
“I expect no reward from anyone. My son had the veteran card, but I never felt
the need for it. I am a ‘poilu’ because I was forced to see and do certain things. I have
nothing of a volunteer.
heartbreak for everyone. It must not happen again.”
Change Gotham’s name to Nu Dubai. Where, in any Starbux, you can order a
Bizarro world is up to you.
Global war. Ming. Who is that anyway?
All round the world, a chorus of querulous voices lamenting: Oh no, the Chinese
shot down my cellphone!
Return with us now to those thrilling days of jester jeer…
Take the materials of the night. Add sunlight. Wait.
Lots of hoarfrost this a.m. White on the macadam. How not to hit the little but
nonetheless actual man who’s crossing the street in front of you . Too much brake and
the bike’ll slide and there’s a car coming up on your right.
Black ice everywhere too, slick as oil. Eric B. comes off his bike on Greenwich
Street heading uptown, jams his calf in the frame. A car, driven by a Punjabi, slides
helplessly toward him. He holds up an arm to stop it. From the sidewalk a woman
calls out, “Stop! Stop!” Eric’s bag ends up underneath the car, one corner of it heat-
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 990
fused to the engine block.
Once upon a time, you saw someone hold up a handful of crude oil. It’s a
disgusting thing. Anyone who would refine and burn that stuff – the deadest, deadliest
energy harbored by the earth – deserves the ugly black and chrome Denali that
devolves from oil’s processing, deserves the inner death that results from colluding
with such a machine.
Eric B. picks himself up, considers returning home, but presses on uptown to the
café. Through the window, you watch him chain his bike to a parking meter, notice
that the milk crate on the rack’s askew, half on, half off. That’s where we are. On until
off, and some and everywhere in between.
He sits down, shows you his injured leg. His coffee appears, and with it, milk.
Oil discovered in Ugaska. No, I mean Alaganda. No Conganda. The
Democratic Republic of – no, Condugango. Where ever. Beneath the lake, the Nile
headwaterish lake, another lakeful of Texas tea. Beneath Denaili. Expedient Denaili.
Who owns it, the sub-lake? The oil companies of course! We’re rich, rich! Providing
we can stomach it.
Eric’s basically OK, only reinjured an old football bash from five years ago – the
outside edge of a Yugoslav’s boot shearing against the bone. Your family’s got to stop
getting hit by cars you tell him, remembering the period ten years ago or so when you
and Katie couldn’t stop falling down. Both of you. Every week another fall. It was
ridiculous. And worse.
Back in August, the U.S. announced we had the right to shoot down any satellite
we wanted to. We said Checkmate! But the Chinese play a game without squares.
And once, long ago, your father used to dance you around singing: Joshua fit the
battle of Erico.
What’s the difference between Eric B. and Eric D.?
is a river in Africa. White Nile, Blue Nile. Black. Sahra move south.
A friend emails you a poem. In it, the lines:
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 991
(Now, remember the sheep from the goats.
The old notion of the elect: Heaven’s reward only for the chosen.)
What comes to you is the image of Poor Mad Georgie W., sitting among the
schoolchildren, doing his worst to read them a book about a goat. Now how perfect is
the universe that could produce that?
From she to shining she.
Said Seneca, not too long after the earthly coming and going of a certain Essene
prophet: “This is the difference between us Romans and the Etruscans. We believe that
lightning is caused by clouds colliding, whereas they believe that clouds collide in order
to create lightning. Since they attribute everything to gods, they are led to believe not
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