I take a picture of an excavator outside Newton Barge Playground in New York, its boom reaching over the Empire State Building in the distance—yellow poised-like-a-praying-mantis arm and I’m-not-afraid-to-get-dirty brown caked on the bucket-hand, superimposed on gray sky and green water. The famous art deco spire, Fitzgerald’s ‘lonely and inexplicable’ sphinx, apexing at the excavator’s elbow. I imagine one that could actually scoop up the Empire State Building as I see it now, the crowds jammed inside, all of the earth beneath. The inflexible tips of its hand penetrate the ground. Loud, loud sounds. Crunching, popping, hissing, metal moans. A perverse kind of Stendahl Syndrome sets in — rare tourist’s disease, paralysis in the face of extraordinary artistic achievement: from where did this spectral come? This impossible mechanical giant? Panic percolates: “It must be the Russians!” one calls. “It’s the socialists!” another. “It’s our own administration!” “It’s the terrorists!” The landfills split, water and trash rush into the city. I wonder if another consciousness, or perhaps thousands, just lived
through the violent flicker in my mind, an alternate universe, all those poor souls — screaming through a space-time rip…
…If this is the case, I whole-heartedly apologize to you, sweet brain people, for I am an ignorant god.
You’ve wandered to a bench, so I wander to a bench. We wander to a bench. Sitting next to you now, I hear lilting melodies escape the swing sets to our left in tandem with the sizzling combustion sourcing your lungs. You’ve sparked a spliff with an apple juice marinade, “tastes funny, but it’ll do.” The large shadow of a Hackberry tree trapped in concrete, crawls up the linoleum-tiled wall of a public restroom. Teal and turquoise. Linoleum on the outside. I think whether I’ve seen another restroom turned inside-out like this before. A lively attendant talking on her cellphone crescendos out of the bathroom, locking the stainless steel doors, and, after giving them a final tug, decrescendos out of earshot.
It’s 5pm and you are sizzling, sizzling, sizzling; puffing then exhaling such precise plumes, like you do. If I drew even closer, I’d hear soft crackles and snaps, firecrackers of static, tempo adagio alla respirazione. I’m working on a vaporizer, easier on the lungs or something. A young father approaches and pulls on the handle of the restroom while a toddler teetering behind him grasps at the base of her green plaid coat. Her necessity is tangible. He turns to her, outstretches his hand, and says, “C’mon, we’ll find one, soon, I promise.” Gripping her father’s hand, the toddler attempts bold, brave steps as they walk away. The shadow of the tree trapped in concrete slants downward, sliding to the left, hinting at the sidewalk. We enter the golden hour. Your father rises from the annals of our conversation. You tell me that he doesn’t even know you’re in New York. I dance a fine line there, encouraging reparations without appearing off side. I think about his vainglorious departure, marking marriage for you, his then 10- year-old, as an institution fallible to infidelity; an institution easily shucked. I think about the phone call you and I had the day before you met my family.
“But I love you,” I say.
“You know I love you. It’s just hard for me. I have no examples of working relationships. Not really anyway.”
“Ok, but what about your aunt and uncle?” increased heart rate; hole in chest.
“They’re still together, sure, but they don’t talk the way they used to. They’re not the same. I don’t think they’re in love anymore. I don’t know. I’d hate to be with someone I couldn’t talk to, like really talk to and be myself around. And after awhile, what is there to say, anyway?”
“Yeah but we talk, though, I mean, don’t you think…” spiraling pit. “What do you want me to do with this information? Where is this coming from?” dazed. flailing.
“I don’t know. Sorry. Just seems so inevitable to me…”
“You know you’re speaking with your current, serious partner, right?”
“I want nothing but your total happiness.” fool.
“I have to go. Everyone’s leaving now. I have to go. Sorry. I love you.”
“I love you.”
The toddler and her father are out of sight. Father’s promise racing against daughter’s clock.
The crack of a skateboard and laughing youth ensconce us hooded invaders. We are the silent swimmers among such practiced waves: folks walking their dogs, business execs smoking their smokes, joggers zigging their zags. You and I snap pictures of one or the other’s face, like in the movies. In a week and a half we’ll split. But for now and forever I can see you through the lens of your secondhand camera. Smiling unsure at first, then beautifully, comfortable as my girl, my sing- song laugh-er. The shots come out better when you’re all the way in the shade, love. But I see it’s fun for you to play with the sharp contrast of the sun-line, allotting light and dark along your face, laughing a tune to our camera game. How trite how stark how sad how poetic I click and clack and fumble with focus and don’t say anything. You taught me a modicum of camera adjustments that I wield clunky. I think you called it the ISO: “See that little bar? With the sun in the– yeah, you use that to set the light, pick a point.” I designate your nose ring as the point of focus and light. Romantic me wants to show you you as I see you, “See? I told you you were pulchritude and art and here’s the irrefutable proof!” I need your image to turn out so clear that you will know the depth of your effect: “An absolute beauty,” I would have told you, “that, no matter time, no matter place, is absolute. If a rose grows from a sidewalk, so be it; if a wisp of wind tickles the leaves of singing trees, so be it; they are not absolute like you, they are not infinite like you are to me.”
The shadow of the Hackberry tree escapes the clingy linoleum of a locked public restroom and creeps across the terrain of pavement.
You’ll leave me for you. I’ll leave you for you but god damn how I wanted you forever. God damn how I fell for you like a penny from atop the Empire State Building. A penny falling only to split my own, stupid self far below. First, through my woefully parted hair, then bubbling brain, wrecking ribs, heaving heart, the penny carelessly reifying internal organs as external before leaving two slow blinking halves of me. Trying to remember where the hell I left my credit card and what day it is and who I’m supposed to meet where with which deadlines in mind and do I owe anyone anything like money or a deed or a beer. I’m not so good with details, but you’re gone and I’ve got every single detail of us like damp grains of sand dried so stubborn: under my nails, in my hair, my ears my eyes, cast off surprise by surprise as first a week then months pass, the lucky penny still spinning on the pavement.
Today, we’ve been all around Brooklyn. The sun is setting drunk, it’s getting cold, and the lilting melodies have changed. More than one child is now being pushed on the set – a symphony in the works! I open my phone app and start recording. After 1 minute and 56 seconds I name the file “Lilting Set.” I must compose a piece around it. I must I must I must, I think I say out loud, and I think you say yes.
In my pensive, tech-support cubicle I’ll be busy with the bike ride to Belmont. The volcanic first kiss and holding hands beneath your desk on hardwood floor; a shocking loss of self for both. Hurling Lady Maw, my long dead Bonsai, into the center of Jamaica Pond, cementing her final resting place together. Thomas Point Beach Campground. Too much tequila but just enough dancing at The Middle East Downstairs. Your laugh in a stairwell. All of us as us dissolving and fighting for more than, “Yeah, we had fun, but it just didn’t work out.”
And finally on the hopeless train to meet you at the Commons it’ll feel like nothing. I’ll float over to the sidewalk where I’ll wait for you to split from the crowd seething out the pores of Boylston Street, and when you do we’ll float over to a bench by the Parkman Bandstand. Windy, the sky grey, you’ll let me blither and blather about what I did and what I didn’t do until the awful words, “well, so what, is this it? are we through is that what’s happening?” drip from my oh so far away lips, to which you’ll reply, not looking,
“Sounds like it.”