Ode to New York City

by Robert Gibbons

Prelude: A View of the City

Approaching by train, heading under the skyline, she summed New York up, "The wounded city." Ironic, the shock to see Ground Zero out a hotel window, I mean the desk attendant said we'd have a view of the city, but this? (Vanished?) Cranes & Klieg lights, steam shovels shoveling the never-ending mass grave. Frank O'Hara could still hear the Third Avenue El after it was torn down, & maybe that's how I prefer to remember the architecture: a sound, the way Andrew Wilson compared the Towers to a tuning fork, & Oh, the pitch still reverberating through the universe such measure of the magnitude of our mourning.

The Sky Transformed

Need for gaiety when the first day of the weekend is spent,
unexpectedly, in a kind of silent
mourning at Ground Zero,
& the meager language
we muster remains
mostly internal,
So the next day get up early to take the Staten Island Ferry,
not to get anywhere, because it's free,
& Baudelaire praised contemplation
of a ship, especially one in motion,
as mysterious & infinite.
With Ellis Island in the near distance, where my father said they changed
our name from Fitzgibbons,
we are poor immigrants among all the passengers,
looking over our shoulders reminding us again
of the disaster down there,
where the Towers were,
as much from the hole in the sky
as the one in the ground.
It's difficult to pull oneself up out of mourning into gaiety in one fell swoop.
I could have used the dream where my Soul became visible
to my daughter only
so that I had to look through her eyes
on the bus where my Soul was a rectangular piece of glass
hovering in the air
in the aisle
& pressed within it was a rose, Eros.
So, of course, we head to Gotham Book Mart on 47th St.
where we know we'll find gems
like a cheap copy of Apollinaire's erotic writings,
& Baudelaire's Intimate Journals.
There's nothing like French wit to help bring one up: "She was as red as a beet,
her bosom was shaking, but she was at a loss for words."
"I am sick of France; chiefly because everyone is like Voltaire."
Frank O'Hara joins us, too,
when his Selected Poems opens all by itself
to "Poem Read at Joan Mitchell's," when we're already on our way
to 83rd Street to meet Barney Rosset,
the legend, who published Lawrence & Miller & Olson.
But not before tramping through the desert of wealth in the Upper Sixties & Seventies making me thirsty, making me wish out loud for a Champagne bar
like the one that rescued me
from my hangover after the Rauschenberg show at the Whitney,
when all of a sudden this little gelatto place on 73rd & Madison turns
into none other, (words in fine print,)
than a Champagne bar. Ah! Via Quadronno!
We share a glass of Gavi de Gavi for $13.50, which does the trick, getting us out of the residential desert
into the art world between 83rd & 84th where Janos Gat greets us at his gallery
with a glass of red wine telling us Barney & Astrid
are in the other room ready to greet us with smiles & handshakes & photographs from the war in the 40's & a story
about Joan Mitchell when Barney lived with her
in the south of France & recognized it was time,
that her work had gotten to a point
where they could go home to New York
with Pollock & de Kooning, Motherwell & Kline,
but responded she couldn't, her oeuvre too large & vast to move.
Barney offered to carry it all all
by himself
on the lone condition she marry him.
A few years later, after their formal relationship ended,
O'Hara wrote his wonderful poem, ironically one he would have made as long
as friendship could last if he could have written a poem that long.
Choko came by with her cell phone, effusive ebullience, & exotic look.
The young publisher, Scott Korb, as thrilled
to meet the legend as I was as thrilled to meet the legend,
went out with us afterward for a bottle of Cahors,
the "Black Wine of France," where we shared
stories of coming to writing,
our trip to Cannes, his living in Ireland,
the link between intelligence & consciousness,
intuition & the unconscious, the reiteration of his mission
to publish what is earnest & honest over cynical & ironic
reminding me of my distaste for Voltaire.
We parted in front of Nicola's on 84th with a firm handshake,
a willingness to face the events of today
with a language of risk & metamorphosis,
& one unforgettable image recalled from that morning
of the row of pollarded sycamores on 43rd with branches reaching into the sky transformed into the grieving hands of Grünewald.

©2002 by Robert Gibbons

Robert Gibbons has work currently online in: The 2River View, The Drunken Boat, Evergreen Review, Frank , Gargoyle, Janus Head, Linnaean Street, Recursive Angel, and Stirring. A few copies of his limited edition chapbook, This Vanishing Architecture, are still available from Innerer Klang Press, Charlestown, MA.

Read an interview with Robert Gibbons in The Slow Trains Ten.

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