Friday, January 9, 2015

Documentary Poem

I could have taken (and may still take) observations from our afternoon in Casadaga (the subtitled hypnotizing Elvis movie above the hotel's faux fire place and all the chatter about "where I was/what I was doing when Elvis died" around me) sprinkled some historical facts about the town and my medium who hails from a place called Edgar Cayce, Canada.

But I must confess that in order to take a real stab at this, I have gone into a piece of prose written last year on the anniversary of 9/11. I have a couple of reasons for this.

One is I stopped writing for 8 years post 9/11. It wasn't a conscious decision, it just happened. And that is a story or poem in and of itself.

Another is the movie I saw here this week for the first time: Poetry of Resilience, in conjunction with  the introduction to Carolyn's "Poetry of Witness", something I encountered here for the first time as well.

The event of that Tuesday in 2011 probably shaped more lives collectively than anything else I have lived through --more than the mental illness and abusiveness peppering my childhood, more than the addiction rampant in the lineage of my children's father, more than a day trip to a town of psychics and mediums while on retreat.

As such I feel compelled to resurrect this piece and attempt the format of documentary poetry in it.


September 2001
(Suffolk Street, Lower East Side, NYC)

I stumble into an affordable
sublet by sheer chance and luck,
once my luck begins to return,
that puts me in the midst
of a small artists haven


around a watering hole called
The Lotus Club. This Lower East Side
enclave is part of the last gasp of NYC
bohemianism that becomes forever
stamped out after the events surrounding

one week in early September of that year.

"Did Parisians 
ever have 
the feeling 
that they were 
living through 
the last days 
of an era - what 
we know of now 
as La Belle Epoque? 
I doubt it. For one 
thing, the expression
 "La Belle Epoque" 
- which, after all, 
doesn't mean much 
more than the good 
old days - wouldn't 
even have occurred 
to them. The phrase 
doesn't appear until 
much later in the 
century, when people
 who'd lived their gilded 
youths in the pre-war years s
tarted looking back 
and reminiscing" 
( 2014)

At my dead end place of employment du jour,
a sweatsuit clad, overweight and disheveled
young woman wanders into the upscale
Greenwich Village bath products shop

where I have been trained
to enumerate the glories of
Italian toothpaste and English shaving
soaps. It is a stunning cloudless
blue-sky afternoon, and the carcass of

The                                                ehT
Twin                                            niwT
Towers                                     srewoT

smolders (a mere shade or two darker than my only
customer of the day's sweatpants) profusely
in the background. The name on the credit card
handed to me is 'Monica Lewinsky'.

“Sure, my 
boss took 
advantage of 
me, but I will 
always remain 
firm on this point: 
it was a consensual 
Any ‘abuse’ 
came in the 
aftermath, when 
I was made a 
scapegoat in 
order to protect 
his powerful 
(M. Lewinsky
Vanity Fair.)

It isn't what I will 'never forget'
but what I have been able (perhaps
chosen?) to remember:

A zombie migration
of soot covered office workers

marching up 2nd ave.
Those nice new autumn

Century 21 or Filene's Basement
ensembles hanging from bodies

in lopsided tatters - man made upper
soles distorted and misshapen from scorching.

One impossibly, brilliantly azure
sky marred only by twin ceaselessly

hemorrhaging black plumes.
Having the main East/WestHouston

Street artery to myself, despite
the southern skylines rupture,

on roller blades. High: adrenaline,
sattiva, space, whizzing smack dab

down its center (holy shit i think,
i will never be able to do this again

in guilty exhilaration) past police
barriers, and the culmination of these

meaning movement finally, in
one direction or the other- it is still

too early to tell. Swivel chairs,
desk calendars and formica hall

bathroom countertops, the new coffee
machine a girl from reception brought

in (in mid-brew even) all no doubt molten
with the possibility that decomposition

brings. And all like components
in an impeccable string section

harmony, contributing distinct scent
northward, silently, in a larger

whole's noxious breeze. The plumes only
look vague and like part of our island's

aura after dark, like something you may
have seen wafting out of Nell's

"Perched on a red leather banquette, squeezed behind a hand-painted cafe table in the nightclub named after her, Laura (Nell) Campbell raised her arms and waved them from side to side. "This is what I've heard they do," she said, "those rave people. They're all doing ecstasy and whole rooms full of them do this for hours on end."She feigned a happy trance and swayed her arms for a moment, then dropped her hands demurely into her lap and said, "I really have to go to one sometime."There was a time when all the raves were for Miss Campbell and Nell's... night life was once a monarchy, and Miss Campbell was queen" (Feb 27, 1994 NYT)

or Limelight once, now suddenly
another lifetime ago, something now

from an entirely past life- especially
on this first night when the

boyfriend I am not so crazy about
and I lie in his moldy Greenpoint

basement studio, and he tells
me he’s going to enlist, that everything

is different now, and that we
will have to stick together

even though he is not sure if he will
have to get up to drive the truck for Edgar

tomorrow. Several days later when a stranger
offers me, like a piece of bread,

with kindness in his heart, a small
white mask for shielding respiratory

orifices, I tentatively accept,
give it a try. And only then do tears

come. I wonder if they have the
same burning asbestos smell that

everything seems to have. They certainly
don't flow with the same ease I recall,

when tears encounter that first downward slope of
cheek. I don't know, they seem a bit laden.

I remove the mask and brush
a tear away with an index finger,

inspect it. Looks the same although
I wonder if a microscope might

reveal black specks. I taste it.
Slightly acrid. Stuff mask in bag

and wander around in search of friends
congregating in dazed clusters on

East Village streets. The rest, I am sorry,
I may have (for now) chosen to forget.


  1. Love seeing this on the page after hearing it today. Killer last line.

  2. There is a powerful mingling of quotidian and horrible images, your responses strike with an authentic voice. Thank you for posting this. I'm sorry it took me so long to respond to it, Steph. xxoononnie