I spent my childhood in Ohio and Maryland,
but for most of my life I’ve lived in Manhattan.
The name comes from the language of the Lenape people,
recorded in the ledger of Henry Hudson’s ship, Half Moon, in 1609: Manna-hata.
“the place where they gather wood to make bows”–
the Lenape valued the hickory trees of Manhattan.
My first residence was a dorm room on West 27th Street;
My first job was in a clothing store on Lexington Avenue.
The Number 1, the 42nd Street Shuttle, and the Number 6–
those were my first subway lines in Manhattan.
My work offices were mostly in the Garment Center on Broadway,
but one was on the Avenue of the Americas in Manhattan.
When I freelanced most of my clients were located between 34th Street and 42nd Street–
but I also worked for people in the West Village, on the Lower East Side, and in Soho in Manhattan.
I have lived on or near West 21st, 27th, 82nd, 95th, 111th, 113th, 135th, 152nd, and 162nd Streets,
and on Bank Street, Hudson Street, Broadway, and West End Avenue in Manhattan.
Clinton Street was where I lived in Brooklyn–
but it didn’t take me long to return to Manhattan.
The Garment District, the West Village, Chelsea, the Upper West Side, Morningside Heights, Harlem, Hamilton Heights, and Washington Heights—
those are the regional names of the places I’ve lived in Manhattan.
I have always wondered if my Dutch ancestors, the Van Lents, lived in New Amsterdam–
or if I am the first descendant on my mother’s side to reside in Manhattan
Sherry at earthweal asked us to consider the names “of the places most beloved to us.” I don’t think she was thinking of cities, or of numbers as names, but Manhattan island is, and has been, my home, where my history resides, for 50 years now. And many of its names are numbers.
For Thursday doors, I could only find photos of the front doors of 3 of my residences. I took the top one recently–it’s my first uptown apartment, a Columbia University building, where I moved during a transition period in my life. A former roommate, then a Columbia grad student, lived there with her roommate and a rotating series of friends and boyfriends.
Here’s the inside of the apartment door where I spent the early lockdown of the pandemic. Not very appealing. But my windows looked out on the subway and a playground and Broadway. Noisy but light.
Here’s the inside door of my apartment now–much more to my liking, even though you walk right into the kitchen. And I also have lots of light, my top priority in a living space.
My poem was inspired by Natasha Trethewey’s wonderful ghazal “Miscegenation”.
And you can join in Thursday doors here.
Just a piece of earth surrounded by walkways, tables with chairs and benches, buildings. A dorm, a student center under renovation, classrooms, a hedge.
Always there are birds. Hopeful begging sparrows, robins searching the grass even in snow, starlings flashing yellow beaks, the red of cardinals and the screech of blue jays. A mockingbird that serenades for nearly half an hour one morning. A nuthatch on the trunk of the tree. A flicker, often heard but never seen. A hawk overhead, and Crow, always loudly demanding attention. New birds we can’t get close enough to identify clearly. We look at photos online and argue about what is closest to what we thought we saw.
Students wander past, occasionally sit for awhile. Children and dogs play on the lawn. But often it’s just the three of us—two coffees, one tea. We walk from uptown and downtown to meet for a few hours together on a sleepy college campus, with the sky above and the sounds of the city fading far away.
turning voices gather un
der branches soon bare
The top photo is of the doors of a Columbia University dorm that sits on one side of the place my daughters and I often meet. Obviously not built recently…
Also written for Brendan at earthweal who asked us to consider how nature and humans can adapt to each other to provide places for both to thrive.
You can join in Thursday doors here.
“True fellowship among men must be based upon a concern that is universal. It is not the private interests of the individual that create lasting fellowship among men, but rather the goals of humanity.” (Wilhelm)
“all I did was plant a seed…”—Pete Seeger
they called it Clearwater
build a boat
a replica of an 18th century Hudson River sloop
to save the river
they had a vision
if there’s something wrong
the river returned to its origins
free of contamination
realize that little things
sewage and toxic chemicals
lead to bigger things
fish would come back
get people together
humans could enjoy the river again
and they’ll act together too
fresh water without fear
italicized words from Pete Seeger
There’s so much wrong with the world–what can we do? Pete Seeger believed in working locally with the people in your community–what needs to be fixed? Realize that little things lead to bigger things.
Founded by Pete and Toshi Seeger, Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Inc, has played a major role not only in cleaning up the Hudon River to allow both the river and the surrounding ecosystems to recover and flourish, but in pushing for judicial solutions to pollution everywhere in the United States.
Until I did a little research for this post, I did not realize that Clearwater’s opposition to the Storm King power plant led to the first court case to grant legal standing to environmental groups so that they could file lawsuits to protect the public interest. The NRDC and all organizations challenging the right of business and government to pollute or destroy ecosystems for profit began here–with the Clearwater. This is a tool whose value cannot be overestimated.
I used to frequently see the sloop sailing up and down the Hudson in the years I spent a lot of time in lower Riverside Park. It continues its mission with public education and helping people organize–and of course with music.
“Participation—that’s what’s gonna save the human race.”
The first collage/photo is from my Beach I Ching series. It seemed appropriate to this subject in many ways. The other art is from various things I’ve posted over the years.
This post was inspired by Sherry’s challenge at Earthweal this week: what happens to one, happens to us all.
I spent a lot of time thinking about the earthweal challenge this week, to write a poem of thanks. It all came down to the same thing: I’m thankful for life, to be alive. But I couldn’t think of another better way to say it.
grace, this balancing—darkness
shining into light
Happy Thanksgiving to those celebrating, and those who are not. May we remember and honor all life with care and gratitude.
and I am reminded again of who I am,
what I see when I look up at the night sky,
the scent of the earth in spring–
I feel the summer lingering,
long days of sun and sand
and the salty taste I carry
through days that follow me in rhythm
with the waves–
I see the sharpness of blue sky
behind black branches,
a playground of white snow
that culminates in hot chocolate,
the inside warming the outer—
I have been uprooted and transplanted
so many times that nowhere is home–
everything is temporary–
I’m always expecting to move on–
but I remember looking up
through the shade of oak trees,
the roses in my mother’s garden,
lilacs filled with butterflies—
the rust and gold of autumn
singing beneath my feet
For the earthweal challenge, a song of earth-praise from 2019. How far away that seems now. But I am still thinking of my mother.
The morning wakes without rain,
a shimmer of green
appearing from the silhouettes
of the trees scattered between
buildings. Silence floats
off the glossy reflections
of the windows
holding the rising sun.
I look for Crow flashing
black feathers as he calls
from somewhere I can’t see.
His voice bounces off
the brick and I imagine
he raises his sharp beak,
laughing as he follows
my eyes searching for the sound.
I have not asked him to speak–
he does not wait for invitations—
I do not for an instant believe
he is without purpose here
on this clear morning calling me
as usual to attention. Do you
pretend you know me?
he asks, and what can I reply?
How can you ever pretend
to know another when
you cannot even see who
this person is that you carry
with you all the time?
Who is this being that you call
is their true name?
Another piece of art inspired by Nina–her joyful birds, above. For the poem, I used a prompt posted awhile ago by Miz Quickly, in which you take lines from a poem and write them every few lines on a piece of paper and fill in the spaces between with your own words.
As Jane told me recently, it’s hard to find a poem of mine that doesn’t talk about birds. I used lines from an Adrian C. Louis poem “Magpie in Margaritaville”, which I found in the wonderful Tupelo Press book “Native Voices”. I couldn’t find a link to the poem online, but you can read about the poet, a member of the Paiute Tribe, here.
Also linking to earthweal, open link weekend.
in the afterglow
doesn’t always fit
with old formulas
and then multiplied
the sun rises
and wing it
with why not
explain say yes
for something else
My collage, inspired by Nina’s recent painting, above, is not at all what I intended to do. Not even close. I feel like this is a good metaphor for life, the way my life is, anyway, now and for as long as I can remember it. Nothing is as it appears, even in its imagining.
And what is the point of my poem? Does it have or need one? I’m not sure, but it travels in a kind of parallel to my train of thought these days also. As David Byrne said so aptly, maybe it’s time we stopped trying to make sense out of the nonsensical. Aim as truly as you can and see what happens.
Earthweal asks this week if our poetry can be sufficient for the world we live in. How do we define “enough” of anything? Everything seems to be both too little and at the same time too much.
We want definitive answers when there are always only more questions to ask. There’s no guidebook, no map. It’s a circle, not a line. There’s no way of knowing or controlling where the things we begin will end. We can only do our best to say what we think needs to be said, do what we think needs to be done, and be good listeners and caretakers to the world.