In my words, April 8 – 14

On Friday, as I walked down 2nd Avenue in the rain coming back from the gym—after some laps in the pool (my crawl is getting better, less pain in the muscles in my left arm each time I move), holding on to a rusty umbrella undone constantly by the cold wind causing it to collapse and go fluttering until I pulled and pushed it into shape again, I found myself thinking about a friend, a woman I hadn’t seen in a longtime, probably years: we’d worked in the garden, La Plaza, together. She had a restaurant, often donated her place for fundraisers, and was also there on workdays with rake and shovel or whatever was required. Dutch by birth, she came to NYC via Mexico where she’d lived for many years in Cancun before Cancun became Cancun. She’d had a little restaurant on the beach, but was overwhelmed and pushed out by the quick development and the government.

The last time we talked, she’d fallen in love with a man who had several children. As I wondered how she was doing, I approached a falafel place called Cheep’s near Saint Marks that has a special going for $1.75. That will do for lunch, I thought and went inside. Well, there she was sitting in a corner reading the Times. “You’re not going to believe this, but I was just thinking about you,” I told her. We kissed. “And I never come in here,” she said. She got married on Valentine’s Day, sold the restaurant, is teaching, and moves to Jamaica in June. Nice. When I got home, I told Akram the story and asked him, “What does it mean? I’m thinking about her and there she is. I guess it means nothing.” “No, it’s good,” he said: “it means what you are doing is right, and you should keep doing it.”

What I’m usually doing is deciding what to do now and what to do next. I have a list of tasks. This week, among a lot of stuff, I’ve been working on old poems and it’s boiled down to words, to what sounds best. I wrote a poem called the Duchamp Exhibit in the autumn of 1973. Marcel Duchamp had died in 68 and willed his last work, that he’d secretly been working on called Étant donnés, to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It was built into the museum’s wall and had its own room. When I walked in, I saw a huge wooden door to my left. In the door was a peephole. I looked through, resting my eyes on the two holes. What I saw first was a vagina up close. It belonged to a woman, who was lying on what looked to be uncomfortable branches, gathered sticks and autumn leaves, a figure whose breast, spread legs and left arm I could see, but not her face, because she’d turned that away, not in view. Off in the distance there was a glimmering waterfall, a trick of moving metal and light I guessed, and in her left hand she held a lantern that was lit, forming a triangle of sorts between those three points: vagina, waterfall and lantern.

After seeing it, I sat on a marble bench at the back of the museum near an exit that leads out to a view of the Schuylkill River and the Expressway and wrote. In the early 80s, Philadelphia Eye and Ear Press published At the Duchamp Exhibit in a chapbook with ten other poems I called A Few Swimmers Appear. My friend at the time, Stephen Spera, designed it and some postcards to promote the book.

Over the years among canvases changed to among the canvases and I am still going back and forth on whether I should write the cunt or a cunt because I like them both: the cunt is specific like I’m pointing my finger at it, “that one there, do you see it?” and if I write a cunt it is one of many, all of them, every one in the world, any one that’s ever been. For awhile I had even changed cunt to vagina, not wanting to offend, but then I thought, No, cunt was what I wrote, cunt is what it is. So I put the word back in. Now a or the is the final dilemma and perhaps forever I will never lay this poem to rest.

unnoticed among the canvases
the peephole where a cunt is
with a waterfall and lantern.

unnoticed among the canvases
the peephole where the cunt is
with a waterfall and lantern.

Right now I’m going with, flowing with a cunt and have ended this task (for the present). I will let it.

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