Tonight, or rather in the cool end-part of the day, I saw the great poet Rachel Zucker at Lafayette restaurant on Lafayette Street. I beamed at her in my sunglasses from behind a potted palm, al fresco, and sipped my spritz from a blue striped straw, the kind of paper object that disentigrates if you are drinking slowly. Then my friend Anne came to meet me and we ducked into the bar to discuss the past and our husbands (the great thing about Lafayette restaurant in addition to the $8 Old Fashioneds from 4-6pm is that like any good theater there are several spaces and proscenia for the acts to unfold.) When later I emerged from the zinc bar I noticed Rachel — still there in the cool June evening with her bearded husband. Avoiding introduction is my metier, but but I was so spritzed and oystered that I floated over to her table, interrupted her conversation and told her I loved her in different words. You smiled at me earlier, she said, in your beautiful glasses. Can I see them? I pulled them out, a little embarrassed by their cheap plastic case, and told her the maker, Proof, and material, plywood, and when her husband asked my name, probably because he sensed I was trying with all my youth to pick her up, I said I’m nobody, and after a bit more chirping I walked myself out, eyes still shaded from the demonstration of the sunglasses, to the street.
From the facade of the Waldorf-Astoria two great diag-angled flagpoles extend out of the backs of hulking gilt-bronze eagles, reminding me again of the great responsibility of animalian architectural elements in this city. How kindred I feel with those quiet gargantuan birds, how inanimate and burdened and ceremonial and necessary life can be.
It is difficult, when riding erect on a bicycle with a stiff basket, not to think of the sound of horror which accompanied the witch of the west, pre-Technicolor, before the dream, when she was but Ms. Gulch, riding her bicycle in perfect posture before a blackening sky down the road.
A book signed by its own author is nothing more than a record of the incident of the maker and the made thing together in a brief moment of touch. I was there. Once the great novelist Valeria Luiselli signed a wax-jacketed library copy of her own novel The Story of My Teeth — checked out by me, signed at my request, & returned directly to the Mid-Manhattan library, out of my tentative possession, altered utterly, illegally and for the greater good.
Every day I walk to Bryant Park without a certain knowledge — the knowledge of whether the lawn is open or “closed,” passable or unpassable, to be in or to look upon. If it be closed, desire desire desire, I stand upon a bench dedicated to a long marriage and recite a poem out loud to myself. Henri Cole’s Oil & Steel is a fine object for the occasion, or Sharon Olds’ Ode to the Hymen. Then I carry on my way to less oxygenated acres. But if it is open — unstaked, peopled, colonised with quilts and workers and foreign tongues and newspapers and lost-looking people, then I make my way quietly to the green & lay my body down. Looking up defies all sense of city census population — there is in the air a population of one, one dove nearly gone pigeon with a black feather, and now he is gone. I go back to my first months of life, in a one-piece suit known as a bubble, when my mother lay me in this exact fashion, a world or two away, on a green square of the living earth, if not a mother to me as it is for some people, at least my home. Or is it my daughter in the memory who is the baby, in her seersucker bonnet with yellow embroidery, & on the grass near her little body, a most tart and uneaten key lime pie?
I am very often waiting for the story. It is less often that the story is waiting for me. I was rounding Gramercy Park, thinking about enclosures and cow’s parsley and how good it feels to be called for jury duty when you are rudderless and free when I came in the sight of the great poetry editor Alice Quinn. I had to cross the street that frames the park in order to get behind her. She was clearly, in her seersucker and short sleeve cottons, on her way somewhere. Perhaps she sensed my desperation. I was wearing my Klimtian design reform tunic, a heavy linen French worker’s nightgown from, I am told, the nineteenth century, and stitched in red on the placket at about where the sternum falls is the code, unbreakable to me, “DD13”. Perhaps she knew I was out of time. But some part of her must have wanted to meet me because, like a thought or a small dog, a long receipt flew out of her pocket and fell at my Birkenstocked feet. I picked it up for her. It was, perhaps — I held it for mere instants — a post office receipt, but it had her hand on it, a list perhaps of her illicit dreams or the winners of all the great future prizes, or could it be, as I think on it years later, my own name? We were the only two on the sidewalk. Excuse me, I offered, and she turned, exasperated, then perhaps interested in my tunic. You dropped this, I said, offering my pleat-bloused workers arm. Thank you, she said, recovering from startle. Are you Alice Quinn, I never dared to ask and wouldn’t even if I had the chance again in 1,000 lifetimes. She scurried up Park Avenue while I planted myself in the shade — like a fern, I guess — and watched until I lost her, my organs bumping around in my breast with joy.