Sunday, June 13, 2021

Reflections on a Visit to 'Springsteen: His Hometown'


Act 1: Greetings From Freehold

You should grab a $15 ticket to "Springsteen: His Hometown" at the Monmouth County Historical Association, located in Freehold, NJ.

Highly recommended. With a limited run through July 31.

As described at the link above on the MCHA website, the exhibit gives a comprehensive look at how the Freehold area has been thematically woven into Bruce Springsteen's music and art throughout his career. Over 150 unique items are on display.

Here are some photos I took during a recent visit, beginning with this Facebook post:


Below are two favorites on display. The scrapbook compiled by Bruce's mother Adele, and a ring of hotel keys from the E Street Band's early tours (although I couldn't find one from South Bend, IN, and the 1976 Lawsuit Tour, see Act 2):


Act 2: Bruce and Me


Driving to the exhibit from Bergen County, my wife and I followed Waze's directions off the Parkway and down Route 9.

I didn't realize Freehold was as far inland. I thought it was closer to Asbury Park, which I've visited often in recent years. I remarked to my wife, "I don't think I've ever been on this road before."

Then it occurred to me, this was the very "Highway 9" made famous in the lyrics to "Born to Run." (Also featured in that song is a reference to Asbury's Palace Amusements, demolished 17 years ago this weekend. Here's a great nj.com video about the Palace and the iconic Tillie.)

I've been a Bruce fan all my life... or, I should say, from the time I first played "The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle" on my record player while at the University of Notre Dame, garnering the approval of the music-aficionado roommates from Canada who lived down the corridor at Pangborn Hall.

A group of us snapped up tickets for his performance on campus in October 1976. It was the first rock concert I had ever attended, and it was so good, no other concert has since measured up. It's an irrevocable memory that inspires me to this day.

That's why I call him simply "Bruce." And why, when I finally visited Freehold, I also took photos of his old house at 39 1/2 Institute Street, his old high school, and St. Rose of Lima, his family's parish church:



Act 3: Howling at the Moon


Just this week, there's more of Bruce in the news, with the announcement that "Springsteen On Broadway" will return with a limited run through Sept. 4.

Now that I've written this homage to Bruce, and posted my masked and smiling face at the Monmouth County Historical Association, I'm going to take a moment, put aside the photos, and howl at the moon in a block of text few might ever read.

I want to consider this: is Springsteen a poet for the rich?

We've all grown up now, and it seems we can afford the starting price of $600 a ticket* for a few hours of entertainment.

Does that make it worth it? Does that make it right?

As homelessness continues to sprawl on the streets off Broadway, the harsher realities of our world become harder to ignore.

It's not how much people earn. Few people seem concerned with Bruce's wealth. Not in a world where Jeff Bezos earns more than $2 million every 15 minutes, every day. It's not just Bruce, after all. Many people will benefit from New York City's revival, in many ways.

What concerns me is, how much we will pay? And for what?

A song? A story? Free shipping?

We are desperate for something of value.

Mine is a stolen moment that evokes a $6.50 ticket to a concert on an October night in Indiana, when everyone was young, and I was surrounded by friends, and everyone sang along.

The more time passes, the more money I might pay to try to recapture the past.

Bruce, the poet of the rich, knows this about me.

What he may not know is that the better me, the me I'm still trying to become, walks the streets off Broadway with more desperation each day, longing for words of hope from the poet of the poor.

I believe there's something of more value to be found in a town full of losers when we're not inspired to pull out of there to win.

---------

*- Prices started at $600-$850, with just a few at $75. The lowest priced ticket on seatgeek.com today for the June 26 performance is $649, with prices up to $2,500. The $600 coincidentally matches what eligible individuals received in the federal government's recent Economic Impact Payment.

Monday, May 31, 2021

'NowYork' in May


Since April, have you noticed the #NowYork hashtag on Instagram or other social media posts?

This is the brainchild of a group of advertising executives.

At their website, they describe the effort as "a collective made up of passionate New Yorkers and lovers of New York. Sure, COVID-19 was a setback, but now New York is back. And we've come together to inspire the world to go and enjoy all that the five boroughs have to offer."

In May 2021, I've only been to Manhattan -- as office life is beginning to (excuse the phrase) return back to normal. So although I can't speak to the other four boroughs, I've seen the #NowYork spirit in real life... and I have the photos to prove it.

Above, clockwise from top left, are images I've captured over the past month:
  • Looking south on 9th Avenue from the Port Authority, on my first commuter bus ride in over a year
  • The Chrysler Building, reflected in office windows across the street from my own, imitating a hoot owl
  • The return of costumed Mini Mouse characters in Times Square
  • Lexington Avenue imitating Abbey Road
  • A Thota-Vaikuntam-tinged view of Turtle Bay Gardens
  • Friends lunching on a park bench in Tudor City Greens
  • A rally for Guyuna in Ralph Bunche Park, in the shadow of the U.N.
  • Commerce on 42nd Street, exactly 14 months after lockdown
  • (Center) Setting up for a live performance outside the "Good Morning America" studio
(A larger view of each photo can been seen in this Google Photos album.)

Visiting Manhattan last summer, my wife observed that the city, for the first time in our lives, looked vulnerable. This weekend driving up the New Jersey Turnpike and turning a bend past Newark Airport, we suddenly saw the expansive, ever-changing Manhattan skyline spread out before us at dusk. It looked both majestic and surreal. I turned to my wife and simply said, "Wow."

After the past 14 months, New York City reminds me that while people's lives are vulnerable, what people create can be deathless.

New hashtag: #WowYork

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

A Tree Grows in New Milford

Aerial view of Turtle Bay Gardens
Turtle Bay Gardens, the green courtyard between East 48th/49th streets, 6 pm, 5/26/21.

A tree grows in New Milford, NJ...

    by way of Brooklyn...

    by way of a courtyard garden in Turtle Bay, New York City.

The writer E.B. White used to live in an apartment overlooking that garden. From his window, the author of "Charlotte's Web" often admired a particular old willow tree that grew next to a replica Roman fountain.

In the closing paragraph of his famous essay, "Here Is New York," White referred to the tree as a metaphor for New York City itself:

"...In Turtle Bay there is an old willow tree that presides over an interior garden. It is a battered tree, long suffering and much climbed, held together by strands of wire but beloved by those who know it. In a way it symbolizes the city: life under difficulties, growth against the odds, sap-rise in the midst of concrete, and the steady reaching for the sun.

"Whenever I look at it nowadays...I think: 'This must be saved, this particular thing, this very tree.' If it were to go, all would go -- this city, this mischievous and marvelous monument which not to look upon would be like death."

White's willow, a 1949 illustration.
E.B. White died in 1985. The willow tree died in 2009. And some people will tell you that New York City died at the start of a pandemic in March 2020.

I'm here to tell you that none of these things are true.

Just as Wilbur never forgot Charlotte, White is practically immortal and his words still capture readers' hearts today. It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.

Also, before the dying tree was chopped down, composer Stephen Sondheim and other residents of Turtle Bay Gardens arranged for Bill Logan, a writer and conservationist, to preserve clippings from the willow.

Logan, founder and longtime president of the tree-care company Urban Arborists, planted one outside his office in Brooklyn. The shoot from E.B. White's willow is now more than 40 feet tall, and Logan has donated shoots from the offspring to schools, libraries and parks across the New York City area.

He donated one to me this spring. He just wanted a photo in return. Here it is, Bill:

Willow shoot planted in front of a library

I picked it up in late March 2021 and took care of it for a few weeks. Last Friday a DPW crew proudly, and properly, planted it on the front lawn of the New Milford Library.

New Milford is a Jersey-side suburb of New York in Bergen County. As the bird flies, it's a little under 12 miles between the library and Turtle Bay Gardens.

It's less than a 30-minute drive without traffic, in the middle of a pandemic. But today, the drive took me more than an hour.

My office building overlooks Turtle Bay Gardens, and atop this page is a photo of the view on this warm, beautiful day.

New York is teeming with life (and traffic and noise and energy) today. A storm is approaching. Meanwhile, a small willow tree is growing in New Milford.

---------

Here's a related essay I posted last summer.

Monday, May 17, 2021

100 Words (Exactly) About 4 Unrelated Images

Here's something fun to try:

Pick an image, any image, from your photo folder... and spend 5 to 10 minutes writing about it.

You might surprise yourself with the result.

Lately, at the Wednesday night virtual meeting of the New Milford Library's Photo Journaling Club, I've come up with about 100 words whenever we try this exercise.

Following are four I've edited to 100 words, exactly, uncovering some careless, accidental poetry along the way.

---------

(Photo by Dad)

Nonna's Lullabye
    (100 words, exactly, about my grandmother)

Nonna was always calm, always smiling, and deeply religious. In this photo of us, I'm dangling the pouch that held her rosary beads.

At night, at her house, she knelt with me at my bedside to thank God and pray for others. A while later, I would hear her in the bedroom next door:

She whispered the letter S in a rhythmic cadence, as if she were calling a cat. Trochaic hexameter. A dramatic pause before the last foot.

If I concentrated, I could distinguish the words of her “Hail Marys” – grace… is… blessed… amongst…blessed… Jesus… – before I fell asleep.

---------


Nature Speaks
    (100 words, exactly, about a visit to Sandy Hook Beach)

The trees seemed to invite me down this path. I was wary. The beach before me was empty; I didn’t trust its remote solitude.

A few stray leaves rustled against my shoulder, encouraging me. When an ocean breeze took hold of a branch, it pointed toward the shore.

I took a closer look and saw hundreds of footprints.

The sand told me that I was not alone, that there was nothing to fear. Many had traveled this route before. So I walked to the water’s edge and joined the others, leaving my own transitory mark before the tide came in.

---------


Bridal Redress
    (100 words, exactly, about the power of perspective)

When a couple plans to marry at the City Clerk’s office, romance is a magical leap of faith.

Then plans become reality, reality changes perception, and everyone has a different point of view:
-The father doesn’t know what do to with the empty corsage box.
-The man in a baseball cap doesn’t care.
-A friend in brown shoes has lost sight of the groom.
-An older relative struggles down the stairs.
-The girl in a mini-dress is mildly amused.

Only this photo saves the illusion of romance because, for a split second, forever:
-The bride is the center of attention.

---------


Blank Page
    (100 words, exactly, about writing)

On a blank page,
I can do anything.
I am bold.
The way you always wanted me to be.
I can dance.
Level mountains.
Erase the past.

On a blank page,
time has no power over me.
I conjure you at will.

You are not safe in New York.
That chill in the air is me.
In the shadows of a park,
our ghosts play chess.
Phantom dogs impatiently stare
at our empty chairs.
The meanest one snarls
at the passing cars.

On a blank page,
I wait forever for your next move.

On a blank page,
I never lose.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

9 Images of Spring 2021


Photos mine; captions in 6 words.

New Milford, NJ
Before sunset on Steuben Avenue, 5/11.

My living room
I will never understand my cat.

Cheesecake Factory, Menlo Park Mall
Mom, waiting for me to return.

Times Square
Minnie Mice return to Times Square.

Saddle River County Park
First sign of summer, in April.

First Avenue, New York City
New York shines when it rains.

Yacht Club, Edgewater
Me, suspended between NYC and NJ.

Historic New Bridge Landing
Hackensack sunset; New Jersey's surprising beauty.

Saddle River County Park
Slowly, my world returns to "normal."

Friday, April 30, 2021

11 Goodbyes to Poetry Month 2021

Skyscrapers in New York City
As promised mid-month, here are the remaining 11 poems I've written during April (aka "National Poetry Month"), based on prompts from New Jersey poet Alicia Cook.

The first prompt was "those blue narrow streets." In the resulting poem, I declared myself Superman while walking to work.

I've listed the other prompts at the bottom of this post, and I've added a few notes for context.

Today's poem "Life Is Short" is, oddly, my favorite.

That, or yesterday's. The one with the penguins. 🐧


Working Class Hero

I follow my shadow

with the East River at my back

on a cloudless morning

after an evening rain.


I bound a skyscraper

in a reflection of still water

along these narrow blue streets.

I am Superman.


---------


I Married Bugs Bunny


Gossamer in cellophane.


I was so excited to win

the prize at the boardwalk arcade

that both feet left the ground.


I was a lucky duck,

brought back to earth

by the gravity of your forbearing smile.


Mine, mine, all mine!


---------


David Bowie mural in Jersey City


Eight Line Poem*


Is there life on Mars?

Life only exists where there's water,

in lakes hidden below the icy surface.


Here on earth,

it's a God-awful small affair.

Life only exists where we let it:


Take a look at the lawman

beating up the wrong guy.


---------


Prayer nut exhibit at The Cloisters


Mysteries of the Rosary**


Each decade of my life,

I have stood in admiration

of a single prayer bead,

cloistered at The Met:


a high school field trip,

a very New York City date,

a visit with my children,

a visit alone,

a visit with my wife when our children had grown.


The intricately carved boxwood bead,

six centuries old,

opens to a triptych of Christ’s early life,

and shuts with his crucifixion.


Each decade of my life,

the display-case reflection of my aging face

mixes with this immutable art.

Each detail demands more reverence,

and I take a slower look.


---------


Nonet***


Prepare for the stresses that will come.

I fear the lesson of Earth Day.

We have sacrificed our young.

The day, already late.


Prepare to be saved.

Youth will revolt. 

By God’s grace,

always,


hope.


---------


4/23


In honor of the birthday of the Bard,

I offer just this stanza and couplet.

From less than half a poet, my regards.

Less than half a sonnet to put up with.


So cheers to you! A writer's life is mad:

a cocktail of the good, and of the bad.


---------


In a Spring Still Not Written Of (revised)

  (In homage to "In a Spring Still Not Written Of" by Robert Wallace, who died April 1999)


I have been pushed into something new:

this poem.

This poem is a cool, deep lake,

and I can’t swim.


I see you on the shore:

Calm, indifferent, cross-legged,

on elbows half-lying in the grass.

While I drown. 


I am flailing with words,

dwindling in the distance, 

unable to move or summon

the carelessly beautiful and young. 


---------


Hyperrealistic sculpture of a couple


Prelude to a Kiss****


Look straight in her eyes. 

Silent, head and heart aligned. 

Keep a neutral spine. 


Lips poised, Euclidian curves. 

Let parallel lines converge. 


---------


Our Song*****


I remember when we met:

your red hair,

the kindling flame,

and the smoke that rose. 

Lifting me like an olive branch.


I remember when we married:

the incense and cut flowers,

your mother's dress,

and our friends on the church steps.

You, my homeward dove.


I remember when we parted:

the ash in your hair,

the blended notes of burning violins,

and us, just us, suspended in time.

Dance me to the end of love.


---------


Teddy bear in a purse


How I Imagine Santa’s Workshop******


I can drive there,

our old car warning of a baby on board.

The valets are penguins, of course.


And, once inside,

I am surrounded by pets

who have died:


the dogs, just as gullible;

all the ageless hamsters

I replaced on the sly.


The one and only Spy Cat,

hero of our made-up stories,

eyes me coldly, inscrutable to the last.


I tell them all,

“I have come to take you home.”

Ted, the talking bear, awaits our return.


In your bedroom, alone.


---------


Life Is Short


In the month of April,

I wrote all these poems

for you.


Promise me you'll come back.


---------


The other prompts



*- Inspired by David Bowie's song "Life on Mars" and written on the day of the Derek Chauvin verdict. On Bowie's album "Hunky Dory," the song "Eight Line Poem" leads into "Life on Mars." The image is a favorite mural in Jersey City.


**- When my wife and I recently visited The Cloisters museum in Manhattan, we realized we had the same favorite exhibit, which we've seen on display in the past. Read more about this extraordinary rosary bead.


***- Written on Earth Day, 4/22. A "nonet" is nine lines long. The first line is nine syllables, the next line eight, the next line seven, etc.


****- This is a "tanka," a haiku capped by two lines of seven syllables each at the end. This hyperrealistic sculpture is on display under a bridge at Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, NJ.


*****- This is another poem inspired by a song, Leonard Cohen's "Dance Me to the End of Love." Earlier this month, I also used lyrics from a Dylan song for another poem, so this completes my April 2021 music trilogy. 🙂


******- Inspired by a quote from Charles Yu’s “Interior Chinatown”: “There are a few years when you make almost all of your important memories. And then you spend the next few decades reliving them.”


---------


That's all, folks!


The images here -- except this one -- are mine, mine, all mine!


Friday, April 23, 2021

Images of Thota Vaikuntam's New York, via Prisma

Bow Bridge, Central Park

New York City can be an optical prism.

Sometimes my Google Photos folder will reflect back images of New York in black and white; other times in vibrant color. Here's a folder of New York City images, auto-stylized by Google in recent years, through 2020.

In 2021, I'm beginning to appreciate New York as a blank canvas.

Recently, I've been experimenting with a favorite photo app called Prisma. Caitlin Dewey of The Washington Post once wrote how Prisma "convincingly redraws your smartphone photos in the style of 33 famous artists."

She explained, "Prisma uses an AI technique called neural network processing to generate an entirely new image based on the one you give it. It detects patterns in your photo, and in the work of the selected artist, and uses the rules pulled from those patterns to make a third, combined image."

This month, I selected the Indian artist Thota Vaikuntam. Posted here are 9 of the resulting images, reimagining my favorite city in the early spring of 2021.









Thursday, April 15, 2021

Midway Through Poetry Month, 2021

Snowfall at night in the suburbs
A front-porch American flag amid the snowflakes, see "Rispetto."

11 down, 11 to go.

On a lark, I decided to commit to a writing a poem a day on this, National Poetry Month, following prompts posted by New Jersey poet Alicia Cook.

As she explained on Instagram, her 22 prompts for April (one for each weekday; weekends off) are based on things top athlete @tommy_rivs has said. As Alicia notes, "Tommy is fighting for his life, and his wife... is writing about it in the most heartbreaking and captivating way."

The first two prompts were: 4/1- "Not Today"; 4/2 - "Don't Get Dead."

On the second week, I decided to mash up Alicia's prompts with a five-day challenge at the Shut Up & Write! site: 4/5 - "Grand Canyon in the Dark," using a SU&W Mad Lib-style structure; 4/6 - "Some Runners Are Jerks," in the form of a quatrain about "your grandmother's hands"; 4/7 - "Ever Since I was Little," as an acrostic on the topic of temptation; 4/8 - "Set up your Fortress," in the form of a villanelle; and 4/9: "Bob Dylan Lyrics," in the form of a tanka.

On this, the third week, I'm mercifully back to following only Alicia's prompts. The need to write something every day has also prompted me to explore different types of short-form poetry (the cinquain and rispetto): 4/12 - "Reverence"; 4/13 - "Be as Quiet as Possible"; 4/14 - "Until Next Time"; and 4/15 - "Whispers Before Screams."

Below is what I written so far, along with a few photos. I will try to write another 11 prompted poems this month. I'll see you on the other side.

---------

Not Today


Last night was hell.


In bed, reaching out to you,

I felt the fingers of my left hand

sliced with paper cuts,

one by one.


When I woke, you weren’t there.

Our bed was bloodless;

my hand, whole.

Ringless.


“Not today,”

I grasped in time.

“Not today.”


---------


Haiku, the Movie


Life lessons from "Speed."

A bomb is made to explode.

Your job? Don't get dead.


---------


(What's in a Name?)


Clueless Bob,

Who has never been to the Grand Canyon,

Loves Nancy,

Whose heart is the Grand Canyon in the dark

And whose skin crawls when I write poems about her.

I cheer when I finish a poem.

And cry when I start a poem.

There is nothing I want more than to write a poem Nancy loves.

But I cannot fathom her heart. Signed,

Clueless Bob


---------


(Doggerel at Short Notice Is My Specialty)


“Some runners are jerks,” my grandmother said.

Her hands still withered; while others are dead.

It’s useless to judge, I thought in reply.

Some flowers are weeds; some oceans are dry.


---------


Statue of Psyche and Cupid at The Met in NYC

Desire

Demons have tempted me

Ever since I was little

Silently shifting shape

Intangibly, by degree, year after year

Reimagining your face

Everywhere


---------


A Writer’s Villanelle


Set up your fortress.

Sing words that never die.

A poem can be your chorus.


Think of the angels and aurochs,

the refuge that art provides.

Set up your fortress.


Our only immortality is what we express.

Our silence, suicide.

A poem can be your chorus.


Defend what you profess.

Protect what you certify.

Set up your fortress.


Treasure the inviolableness

that durable pigments supply.

A poem can be your chorus.


We cannot keep what we possess,

but what we write can survive.

Set up your fortress.

A poem can be your chorus.


---------


Simple Twist of Fate


A bridal bouquet,

suspended midair, destined

to land in your arms.


You don’t need a weatherman

to know which way the wind blows.


---------


Cemetery, with New York in the distance

Reverence


With every graveyard

we pass in our car,

my young daughters hold their breath.


Behind me,

in the back seat,

I hear their exaggerated gulps of air.


In the consequential silence,

I hold my own breath,

out of respect


for both the dead and the living.


---------


A Good Boy


I was taught to be 

as quiet as possible.


And so I am.

With one exception:


I scream when I write.


---------


Stars over a parking lot in Teaneck NJ
A parking lot in Teaneck, NJ

Cinquain


The earth,

"Until next time."

The moon, "Another Month."

Meanwhile, stars glimpse eternity,

then die.


---------


Rispetto


The whispers of snowflakes become screams at night.

It’s the sound of accumulated power.

They’ve obliterated every star in sight.

Their fury grows more intense by the hour.


Together, they herald a magical time:

Flattened landscapes, the grace of consonant rhyme.

Remnants of this storm will echo undeterred.

The whispers of snowflakes demand to be heard.



Attached here is a collection of other poems and images, "Greetings From 2020."