Corner of State and Pearl Streets, circa 1912. My great grandfather walked a beat here, or so I’m told.
I remember gray spring days on Bradford Street every time rain goes beyond “threat” and before it hits “wet,” in that aroma its footsteps raise marching down Central Avenue to my stoop, a petrichor composed of raindrops and the pulverized concrete and dreams upon which generations built my Albany. I’m the panting beast who hears church bells in the peel of a beat up rubber basketball against a once-orange ring and its hanging chain netting on a heat-shimmering black top half court in Hoffman Park. I’m the guy who would whistle along with the birds every day at noon when the City Hall carillon played Happy Birthday—and I hate that song. But someone else walking these concrete trails needs celebrating, and I’m down with that. I’m the fourteen-year-old paperboy who met head-on the metastasizing disease of fear creep from places I was never allowed to go until it infected where I had nowhere left to. I am the old man who no longer is sure what an elm tree looks like, since Dutch Elm disease long since killed all the elms the Dutch planted in my city. I feel like an endangered species now myself, someone who, like his fathers before him, remembers the tough nature of growing up in an old city that turned even tougher in its kill-or-be-killed relative present. But do not let me hear you whine your big city insults about gingham dresses or Sears Roebuck suits. I’m an old wolf who survived the dark forest where the two rivers meet, and if anyone can bay about the place where Hendrick Hudson was punked back to one-day Manhattan, it won’t be you. I earned these scars from her sunlit streets and darkened hallways, these tears only we who have cradled in her crusty touch are shed for her dead and still dying history, this accent that is no accent to my pack’s ears give me the high ground to howl at her setting sun. And it hasn’t set yet, bub.
I write too long, these prose poems in which I swim (and usually sink) these days. This is one inspired by Robert Lee Brewer’s call for a poem (I hope this qualifies) with the title “Urban (blank).” My #6 for poem-a-day NaPoWriMo. I am a city boy and from a city I’ll bet is a hell of a lot older than most of yours on this side of the Atlantic. And while she makes me cry in her lost history, we still have a history together, my Albany and I.
When all crashes down, when the light turns its lunar backside toward you, when someone never wants to see you again, when you fail and fail and fail, and you stand there amid the debris of this portion of your life, or even the whole sloppy enchilada, do you ask Why? I’ve always been the searching under the hood, the diligently dissecting, the scour the gummy memory questioner of How. How did this happen? How can I make it better? How can I clean up this mess of a Mexican meal I’ve come to rest in? Perhaps I miss that most prominent point, not seeking the answer of that fifth W of the reporter’s game, but more likely I don’t wish to see the bad, the mad look upon your face when you sadly tell me I’m a cad. If I can just walk away from this latest crash-and-burn, coldly replay the flaming, falling Hindenburg film of my own disaster minus all the “Oh, the humanity,” I might learn something about me and about you. I’d learn something perhaps not so new. Just another guilt-gilded answer to the Why question you never heard me ask. One that I never knew How.
Free Write prose poem (I hope) that rolled like a raindrop down my window. Guess I saw this reflected in it.
It was never supposed to be this way, I heard her say amid the din of Starbucks. And that was all I heard. There was silence among the voices for a second after that. I glanced over my shoulder and saw the 20-something girl with her brown hair cinched into a ponytail I thought might be metronomically fun to run behind touch the glass face of her phone. I saw the joining of two minds, maybe even two hearts, glare from the morning sun and then fade to black, only to be replaced by little figures, icons with no religious meaning, save for the worship of celebrity and people she called friends who she’d never met before. I felt sad for the girl, as I waited for my overpriced cup of joe with “Joe” written on the side. I guess her It grew into something she had not expected and didn’t desire, a wish unfulfilled, a hope crushed, a lesson hard-learned. I’ve had my share of “never supposed’s,” hard times and bad choices, go-away lines and harsh voices. They’re a matter of thinking ahead into a too bright sun and behind at smiles bathed in a dimming twilight with a myopic eye behind rose-colored glasses. The coffee fogged my specs, clouding my position in the now, but I knew it would pass. All I had to do was let it cool a bit before I gulped it down. You see, life’s built upon a foundation of scars and you learn such things after a few scaldings.