Centripetal

 

Things tend toward the middle in my world. Ideas, memories, my own living. It is night. I open up a new book- perhaps it is a manuscript written by Jessica? Maybe it is a new novel, something some 1 has recommended to me. Little I read has any impact. Most writing goes a to b to c to d & can barely sustain that simple formula. I look online & the writing of prose, especially, is worse than that in print. Because 1 can lift a pen between their fingers, or peck away at a keyboard, the belief that 1 can write well becomes self-sustaining. Poetry is the highest art there is. People admit this unwittingly when anything that is of the best quality it can be is referred to as ‘poetic’. Prose is not as high a permutation of writing- it can slide by on the spine of narrative. Poetry has no such backbone/

A few years ago I read of a man’s trip along the railways of Depression era America. I think of my dad & his best friend Charley Erhardt. They have hopped the rails & are heading south to Colorado on a weekend furlough from their Idaho CC Camp. But it is not dad. It is not Charley. I read of a man named Loren Eiseley. The book is called All The Strange Hours. It is 1 of the most wonderful autobiographies ever written. I still do not know, to this day, anything of the man’s ‘real life’- but I know him like few others I have ever read of/

1985- winter. It is almost a year since I penned a poem called ‘A Chance’ to woo brunet & lovely Brenda Hiram. I had seen a Phil Donahue talk show where an ‘expert’ spoke of the surefire method of wooing any girl. Not flowers, not candy, but poetry. I opened up my Funk & Wagnall’s Encyclopedia & read of poetry. That’s the shit that rhymes. I can write better than most of this garbage. Well, I know that I could if I put my mind to it. ABAB. A year till I’m here. Poems & rhymes bore me. Bookstores are boring. Hmm….I’ve heard this name before. Walt Whitman. Hmm….His poems don’t rhyme. Leaves Of Grass. How can a poem not rhyme? That might be easier & less boring to write. Brenda is no more. She lives. But not in my life. Poems that don’t rhyme. I buy the book/

There is a boy. He is alone in a large city. He is walking down a street. He enters into a house full of drug addicts. There is a large noise- restless- violent- there is screaming in the night- there is nothing so specific- the silence of the surrounding ghetto absorbs such. Far above this all a reader closes a book. It is me. The reader- not the boy. The name is familiar. I am not. This is the guy who wrote the tv show Roots. This book is called The Autobiography Of Malcolm X. I am writing away. 1940s. 1970s. There is a difference of color. Nothing is like me. All is with me. Nothing is what I write. Everything else is the same/

I am finishing up my research for an essay. I am learning that others can see what I can. Technique. Narration. Suasion. The crumbs from the forest lead me to read Alien Abductions. Later. Its writer has read my piece & emails me. Years earlier I read a book by a con man- it is about Missing Time. I wrote to him. He is not true. I see many people believe their dreams. I believe my life. This is called suasion/

Jessica has me read her 2nd novel. I read her short stories. She is Matisse. Her prose strokes at description & lets the reader finish the curve. I am Frederic Edwin Church. I am detailed. Clarity. I am Herman Hesse. Jess is Milan Kundera. Mid 1990s. A blond girl named Liza Harper gives me The Book Of Laughter And Forgetting. She says she loves me. I love her. She is the 2nd woman I have ever spoken those words to. She is the 1st to speak them to me. But she is ghost. Her lines curve from mine. Jessica’s gravity. I am in orbit of that which I cannot see. Feel/

Science consumes me. I am reading a textbook I will grow to love- Cauldrons In The Cosmos. I am thinking of Carl Sagan. I met his son- not really, via telephone- last year doing an Internet radio talk show. He proofs a memoir for me. In 1980 I see painting by Picasso. I am moved without understanding. 1994. A book is read. Art And Physics. Its author also guests on my Internet radio show. I am waiting for something/

Here is the middle:

Many people live without comment. Their dull lives bleed days into seconds until years snap back at their end. We do not see straight on. The edges of things allure & tantalize. Galaxies light years off are seen as they were. I am not born when the light that reaches your eye off of this page in a field still moist with morning was sent on its way piercing through the billionfold greater light of our nearer star only to let you know the word is READ.

———————————–

Second Murder: Summer of ‘72

I was seven.

The sky was clear. In the city
it happens so often. "Da deat’ of a nigguh
ain’t nuttin'!" said Ziggy.

As he and I watched the old black man bleed
in the gutter, from a whorehouse rooftop,
fat Georgey couldn’t watch. My eyes
                                                        drifting
from the dying guy to the indigo city skyline.

Only from a rooftop
could a child grab at the sky:
each star a later possibility
still beyond its reach.

As a siren blared and faded
we knew no one would come
in time.

                               A few minutes earlier
some young black punks had beaten and robbed
the old guy. He had nothing but his clothes,
so they beat him for that, then left him
to die. As a few people strolled by
Ziggy pointed this out to us:
                  “Ol’ black guys ain’t wort’ shit!”

Three more times sirens blared
then faded into the distance.

The fourth time was too late.

As they zipped him up
all that was left was a chalk outline.
No crowds had formed. This time
was nothing special. From a world above
we agreed.

                           We knew everything then.

From fifty feet removed
his features were all gray-
                 much like the smog which settled about
                 us and his memory pasted and closed
                 so long into some yellowing pages.

And now, years later, a relative- or friend-
will stare in a blank cemetery, somewhere,
grieving the blur that was his life.

Meanwhile I, sharply focused- unlike old photos,
will now remember the five or so minutes he bled
to death. I raise my eyes. In this pitiless evening
visibility is unlimited. On adult ground, decades removed,
I can now grab each star from where I stand.

———————————–

Is what I know here & now ever the same as what will be known by others there & then? The poem above contains images which should not shock those of you who have ventured this far with me. They contain characters that by now you should be familiar with. Did this happen? Not just in the real existential way- but did things happen as the poem relates? How much of it is just what I choose to tell you- or myself?///

In St. John’s Sunday School I am sitting in a ring with other kids. There are few kids from Sunday School that I recall, even though I spent 7 full years in its indoctrinating classes. Perhaps that’s because I only spent an hour or so each week. Perhaps it’s because I did not care to know about what even I at the age of 5 knew was just bullshit. A fairy tale. The only 2 things that happened of any interest in my 7 years of Sunday School was my ascension to herohood after saving Christine Wender from a fir which caught in her long brown hair & the disgrace of 1 of my Sunday School teachers. Her name was Katy Vetter & I believe it it the early-mid 1970s. Katy was an olive-skinned beauty with raven hair & sharp, strong features. Even at my age I could feel stirrings of desire for this woman. She was perhaps college-aged at the time. 1 week we were told that Sunday School was canceled. We kids would have to brave 1 of Pastor Steege’s narcoleptic sermons with the rest of the congregation. In we filed to the center of the church where folding chairs were set up for us children to sit. The assumption was that Katy had gotten sick. The following Sunday we had a new Sunday School teacher. Her name & look leave no trace in me. I was already majorly disappointed with all aspects of church before this- but now they had fired the gorgeous heartthrob for whom I would even put on a bowtie? This was bullshit.

Then the story got around that Katy was gonna have a baby. Damn! There went my chance to marry her! Apparently, though, Katy was not married. She was like the hookers who had kids without real dads. In fact, she barely knew her baby’s father. A few months earlier Katy had gone to a famous singer’s concert, met the 3rd rate singer, & gotten knocked up by him. Not only was she out of her job as a Sunday School teacher, but she could not work until the baby was born. The Church Elders had thought she was getting larger- but when news of her paternity suit against the singer hit the media it was all confirmed. It took many years for Katy to get the singer to take responsibility his paternity & pay to support Katy & her daughter. But he never visited little Tiffany. Years later I saw Katy- a fat hausfrau- in the Queens Mall. She was a blimp. She was holding her daughter’s hand as they headed down the escalator to the 2nd floor. I was going up the escalator to the 2nd floor. As Katy & her daughter walked by me I thought of saying hi, but something stopped me. If I said something it would mean that this Katy was the real Katy Vetter- not the gorgeous girl of 15 years before- the 1 I had a crush on. In the middle of a crowded shopping mall I do nothing & choose the past///

Not far from the concrete chess boards of Irving Square Park- in 1972- Ziggy, Georgey G., & I played. We were playing war or some such thing. We had made our way up to the roof of a tenement where we would fry our brains in the heat rising from the tarpaper. Bang. We hears sounds below us. A gang of black kids, a little older than Ziggy, were beating this old black guy down below. He had no money. They would not stop. Quietly 6 eyes (or 8 if you include my glasses) watched them beat & kick the old man until his body only moved with the force of their bodies’ actions upon him. Nothing emanated from within the old man. All force went inward, into his form. Nothing was said as we watched. After the kids left the alley we leant up against the inside guard of the tenement top.
Me: Ya think he’s dead?
Ziggy: Prob’ly.
Georgey: Should we try to help him?
Ziggy: He’s fuckin’ dead I said. Besides, no 1 cares about old bums anyway- especially niggers.
Me: Why is that?
Ziggy: Da fuck do I know?
Me: Just askin’. But, he wasn’t a bum. You know that-
Ziggy: Fuck it. You guys better stick right by me. This here’s a dangerous nabe. Remember that old bitch wit’ de gun?
Georgey: What?
Ziggy: That was after you left ya fat little tit-monkey. (gives Georgey 2 purple nurples)
Me: Yeah, I ‘member. But-
Ziggy: Well, she ain’t the worst of it. There are lots of punks like that tribe of niggers what killed that old dude. I tell you I seen shit that’d make you piss your pants wit’ fear.
Georgey: Like what?
Ziggy: Like faggots that make little boys suck their dicks, take them in cars- like that Tommy kid you told me ‘bout. (to me) & you should see how some of the fuckers in cars treat the girls- worse’n the cops!
Me: I seen that, too.
Ziggy: But I seen worse.
Me: I gotta go down there to see if he’s alright.
Ziggy: I hear a ambulance comin’. He’ll be alright. The ambulance will take care of him.
Me: But, Ziggy- it’s Al….
Ziggy: Yeah. I know. But don’t worry- some day, though, things’ll change///

& they did- from 1972 to 1974. Not that the year in between was not of import- but not right now it isn’t. Ziggy has just set up a bad drug deal for some scumbag cop. A junky argues with his dealer over the purity of the cut. Death, How this happened is of no consequence. Ziggy is there- the next day or the day after that- telling us he saw a murder. Not telling us his part in it. A cop car pulls up Ziggy’s Omar’s stoop on George Street. The cop motions Ziggy over. It is the same cop that gave Ziggy the bad drugs. In the seat next to him, driving, is another cop I know. He’s a flatfoot that sent Tony the Bretzel Man to the hospital. Ziggy says he’s gotta go. He gets in the car & they take off. Georgey asks how can a kid like Ziggy be a cop? He thought only grownups can have real jobs. I tell him that’s true///

Georgey G. is scared. Ziggy left without saying goodbye a few weeks ago & now Ditty- the red-haired little psycho has been beating Georgey up every day. Georgey is on the cellar steps below his brownstone & crying. He has black & blue marks all over him. I ask if Talia- his older sister- did this to him? He says no. I ask if it was Ditty? He says no. Georgey will not speak of things. He runs inside. He has to. Soon his father will be home from work///

Back on the rooftop we watch the old man being beaten by 6 or 7 young black kids. He looks up to the heavens. He looks past us. In his last moments I see Al see his son. It is over none too soon///

I close the Loren Eiseley book. I am both there & here & on the rooftop. Ziggy has just finished his preachment. There is a look in his eye. I have 1 too. It is different. Ziggy is a creature of a machinery- not of the material, but of the motive. He will plot & stir & lay out all the tracks needed for an engine car that is not built to 1 day crash head long into something at a specific time & a specific place in a specific way. I understand that. But I am not Ziggy. The old black man was a friend of mine. Not just another nigger.

As a siren blared and faded we knew no one would come in time.

As I see the gang of punks ready to turn the corner from where they left Al’s body to the roaches, rats, & pigeons I heave a soda bottle from off the roof & at them. It flies down toward the corner & smashes on the brick edge of the corner building. Its shatter catches a couple of the scum-punks in the eye. Blood. Across the street a handful of Puerto Rican punks hear the noise & see the black kids look danger-filled their way. The black kids turn, see the worst & head across the street, where the PRs are already foaming in the middle. I still hear their unarticulated grunts, & flense the years from all purity. At the smash’s reverberations I look down at these animals in the street. Many people pass by, but I am the only 1 who takes note of it all. Yet, I am beyond them. Little rhymes so well.

Dan Schneider edits Cosmoetica.
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