Facebook: A Pantoum

The child got into Bard.
Early admission.
I know that from Facebook.
We haven’t “defriended” one another yet.

Early admission.
And paid in full.
We haven’t “defriended” one another yet.
Though that day is coming.

And paid in full.
For the heartbreak of a child’s fickleness.
Though that day is coming.
I won’t be there to see it.

For the heartbreak of a child’s fickleness.
She’ll “like” herself into oblivion.
I won’t be there to see it.
She’s denied all possibility.

She’ll “like” herself into oblivion.
I know that from Facebook.
She’s denied all possibility.
The child got into Bard.

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Zone B — An Abecedarian

A perfect storm, waves and wind and an elusive full moon.

Barometric pressures for the record books, and me beforehand shopping endlessly — for nearly all the wrong things.

Canned tuna, of course, to add to the collection from last year in preparation for Irene, and applesauce, but also cheese and eggs that will need to be turned into a quiche as if I were preparing for a party rather than a catastrophe.

De rigor, the tuna, who wouldn’t stock up on that?

Even taped the windows with big Xs of duct tape before learning that it would make no difference if the glass really were to go flying out.

Fortunately, it didn’t.

Grateful for that and for other things large and small.

Highest on the list being the safety of my 89-year-old father, who for this year’s storm had a grandchild with him, a big strapping 6 foot 4 grandchild who grew up in Norway and speaks next to no English, but is still better than no grandchild at all.

I come to life during these emergencies, like a vampire feeding on darkness, temporarily thrust into purposeful action: shopping, cooking, finding and filling flashlights, setting out candles, again as if for a dinner party.

Juxtaposed to all the busyness is the rising panic, kept at bay or nearly so with cigarettes.

Kitchen safety matches, one of the purchases I’m most pleased about — remembering to get them that is, and how useful for starting the gas stove, now that the automatic strikers are out.

Listening to the winds still whipping the branches around the next morning, I am glad to be three floors up … high enough that the tree outside my window would fall below my floor if it were to fall, but not so high that walking up and down the pitch dark stairs is cumbersome.

Morning now again, day three, and already the days are blurring together because of all the days beforehand just waiting.

Never mind that though.

Once I sailed through blackouts with my lover, the city on holiday, and me along with it.

Perambulating up past 26th street, the line of demarcation between power and no power, there are giddy shoppers, so relieved that parts of the city are alive and well and open for business; B&H is a hotbed of activity, the Hasids taxied in from Brooklyn for the feeding frenzy of shoppers in search of electronics, hundreds of them with red earlocks, and brown earlocks, and blonde, and black, and beside them one non-Hasidic security guard.

Quiet again, as another day passes into night, and I scurry back to my tiny warren before total darkness descends.

Restless immediately, too restless to stay put, I venture north again into the light.

Saved, I sip a soda at a Taco Bell, while my phone recharges —  though really I’d gone out for a beer — and watch Cooper Anderson and the big crane on 57th street, the boom of which fell over as if it were made of twigs.

The only incident is the crazy man who enters the Taco Bell screaming, “You should be tied up, not that dog out there.”

Unsure what he might be capable of, I linger in the safety of the fast food restaurant until it seems safe to push on home.

Violent Sandy, despite the insipid name.

When is the big question: when will normalcy return? — though if I understood the politics of survival better there would be other questions; why this neighborhood before that one?; why grandstand about community, while those in them suffer?; why leave two people in an evacuated hospital and forbid the employees to talk to reporters about the situation?

eXodus is the ongoing fantasy.

Yet I stay.

Zone B is where I live.

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You Can’t Keep a Good Girl Down

Today, at the bodega, a nondescript middle-aged woman was at the register ahead of me. She let out a little whoop and then exclaimed, “I can live again.” She closed her wallet and walked to the door, and then she gave a thumbs up. “You can’t keep a good girl down.”

When she’d gone, I asked the proprietor what had happened. Had she just won a quick pick?

“No,” he explained. “She’d just gotten her food stamps. You work, right? She should have been thanking you, and me, and this guy.” He pointed to a black man waiting to buy lottery tickets. “He works for the transit authority.”

We made a sorry lot. Four people in various stages of middle-age and the lower middle-class, with our vices. The woman with the food stamps had probably been buying soda, though I can’t swear to that. I was buying tobacco to roll cigarettes for when the headache from quitting becomes untenable, and the guy running the bodega was cataloging all our vices — the small routines that bind us to this precarious here and now.

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Quitting: Day 9

Irritable and headachy and trying to remember why it’s so important to keep at it. Rachael Ray lost 50 pounds. And Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. And everyday babies that might die fight to live.

And then there are all the people who assume I cannot do this, my younger brother for one.

I can do this. I need to stiffen my resolve.

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Quitting: Day 1

The other day I was at a street fair selling pottery with an acquaintance. I lit my second cigarette of the morning and he asked me how much I smoked. I answered — about half a pack a day, maybe more on the weekends — and then he asked how long I’d smoked. Increasingly, when people ask that question, I feel a kind of fury. Fury at being forced to think about the horrible fact that I’ve spent my entire adult life as a smoker. I didn’t exactly answer, but the acquaintance, the husband of a fellow potter, let it pass. He told me that until he quit, he’d smoked four packs a day. He got off work at four and was in a period of his life when he was between wives. He wasn’t into the bar scene, so he settled into a chair at five and read until two, puffing and reading, puffing and reading, until the day he knew he had to quit.

I asked him if a doctor had urged him to stop. And he said no, he hadn’t needed anyone else to tell him what not being able to breathe meant. And then he said something else. He said that when he looked back on it now, he couldn’t believe how stupid he’d been to smoke all those years. He wished he’d kicked the habit much sooner.

And something clicked in that moment. I didn’t stop right then. I still had half a pack left. But I knew that I would feel just that way when I did finally manage to quit. So I decided to stop putting off the inevitable.

I finished my last cigarette yesterday morning. So while it’s officially Day 1 of being completely smoke-free, it’s starting to feel like Day 2, and it’s starting to feel like I can actually do this. Not the way he did, with no patches, or gum, or anything. But like I can learn to live without constantly excusing myself with a cigarette break. And then maybe I can live without the infusions of nicotine as well.

Nothing terrible happened at work today, so it’s perhaps not the ultimate test, but it was a test all the same. And it’s the first one I’ve passed in years and years.

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Carnivores

Soon after they met, he told her that he was happiest in midair. He was a visiting professor in New York at the time, who lived in Jerusalem. He taught Jewish history. That year he was teaching at Rutgers.

She took it the way she took everything he said then, as one of those things he said. He thought of himself as a man of paradoxes. And this love of midair, leaving one thing and going to another, fit his idea of himself.

She didn’t take it personally. Not then at any rate. In the beginning, he was just a guy she was seeing. The strangest guy she’d ever gone out with, in fact. A religious Jew who drank and lied and kept the Sabbath. A religious Jew who cheated on his wife and then bound his arm in tefillin.

It seemed that the more he cheated, the more religious he became, if that were possible. That first summer after they met, he flew back to Israel and they made plans to hook up in Barcelona later in the season. She hadn’t been able to wait to see him. Apart from the anticipation, the trip going had been unmemorable. It was the trip home that made an impression. They’d snuggled under the skimpy fleece airplane blanket like teenagers.

Her hand was still down his pants when the stewardess came to take their food order. He carefully explained that he’d ordered ahead. A special vegetarian dish, since he kept kosher. “Yes,” she nodded. “Mr. Rubin.” And then she checked his name off a pad that had a list of all the passengers with special food requests. It would have been impossible to remove her hand at that point, so she tried hard to act as if nothing were amiss, and when the stewardess asked if she’d be having a vegetarian dish too, she said no, she was a carnivore.

Later, after the meal, they dozed off, still snuggled under the one skimpy blanket, and when she awoke it was to turbulence. He was awake too, and was praying soundlessly, his lips moving quickly, like they did, the words he’d recited thousands of times blurring together into one long incantation.

“Are you praying for us?” she asked, wishing for a single moment, that there was something she could believe in other than that their plane was going down.

He’d pissed God off, cheating on his wife, in fact, they both had, and now they were going to pay.

A look crossed his brow. A look that said “I am somewhere else now. I am not available for business. Don’t even think of interrupting me.” And she understood then that he was praying not in the way a regular person might, for the bus to come when it’s freezing, or for the power to come back on in a blackout, or for your plane to stay aloft in a rough patch. He was praying in the way that a religious Jew prays at sundown.  How he even knew it was sundown as they traversed the Atlantic was beyond her, but he seemed to.

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Poetry First: A Pantoum

She developed a taste for poetry first.

Later she revealed an interest in opera.

She’d never had affectations before.

It all seemed very odd.

 

Later she revealed an interest in opera.

She’d gotten one of those great civilization boxed set study guides.

It all seemed very odd.

She ordered tickets to see Andrea Boccelli.

 

She’d gotten one of those great civilization boxed set study guides.

Was it born of having too much money?

She ordered tickets to see Andrea Boccelli.

I didn’t even know that he was a he.

 

Was it born of having too much money?

Or was it too much time?

I didn’t even know that he was a he.

I guess I’d been living under a rock.

 

Or was it too much time?

She’d never had affectations before.

I guess I’d been living under a rock.

She developed a taste for poetry first.

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