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In my words, July 22 – 28

Today is refreshing and cool; no matter what else happens that is good. I wanted to go to a poetry reading on Governor’s Island this afternoon. In fact, last night I took a nice hot bath and shaved before going to bed so I could get up in the morning, do some writing, and leave with time to spare. Around noon I walked from my place up 9th Street to Broadway in about fifteen minutes and caught the R to South Ferry where I’d catch the 1 o’clock boat to Governor’s Island in time to hear The Feminist Poets in Low-Cut Blouses (Patricia Spears Jones, Sharon Mesmer, Larissa Shmailo, Michael T. Young and Ron Kolm) who were reading on a stage called the Algonquin. The name Algonquin conjured up Dorothy Parker’s ghost and made we want to order two vodka martinis straight up with a twist, one for her and one for me, but at Canal I learned there’d be no martinis. Due to construction, the conductor announced, the R train was turning left over the Manhattan Bridge into Brooklyn; anyone wanting to continue south would have to transfer to the 6 to City Hall and transfer there to the 4 or 5. Suddenly fifteen minutes to spare became impossible; I got out at Canal and began to walk home.

Still on Canal, I bought some cherries, two pounds for five dollars, then crossed Bowery down Chrystie to Grand where I thought about buying some shrimp, but didn’t. I stopped at Vanessa’s Dumpling House at 118A Eldridge—always crowded though I dropped my wallet here once and it was returned to me—and ordered a Peking Duck sesame pancake sandwich because I was hungry; I’d only eaten a few grapes in the morning before I got busy writing. Ducks are fatty of course and if you don’t want any fat don’t order this sandwich. The Chinese never fry their bacon crisp, never cut the fat from pork or duck because they think it’s scrumptious. They are Jack Sprat’s wife, a whole big country of them, so you have to keep that in mind when ordering Vanessa’s Peking Duck sandwich smeared with a dark sweet sauce that reminds me of Mexican mole and also fresh sliced cucumber and scallions come with it.

I stopped at a gay bookstore called BGSQD (The Bureau of General Services—Queer Division) that reminds me of Giovanni’s Room in Philly when it first opened in the 1970s. It’s an art gallery bookstore at 27 Orchard Street that has a lot of self published chapbooks and artists’ art on the walls. The fellow who runs it is Gregory. He told me there is a fund raiser going on for a month to help keep the place open. They want to expand it and have a cafe (Life Cafe did that in the early 80s). It’s a worthy cause; poetry readings, art shows, and movies happen there. They had a screening of Salo a few weeks back; not a movie for everyone granted, yet one of the great ones; I would have liked that. Edmund White hosted a reading a few weeks ago featuring young gay poets including Adam Fitzgerald who Youtubed himself in from Florence reading a poem from his new book The Late Parade. BGSQD’s website is: www: bgsqd.com. Check it out. Donate a few dollars. Get on their list. I really like the place and am hoping Gregory the best. You can call him at 646-457-0859.

Crossing Delancey I noticed Queen Anne’s Lace growing in the median between the lanes coming off and going onto the Williamsburg Bridge. It’s probably my favorite plant, very common where I grew up, and here it was as wild as ever blowing in car wind. What follows is a sonnet I wrote in the summer of 2004 that has Queen Anne’s Lace in it. May it transport you for a moment from the exhaust and traffic on Delancey to a distant summer field in the South Mountain.

A little spider on the written page
looks up at me. I do not bother her
nor does she me where I have come to lay
myself down in the grass and grasshoppers
Queen Anne’s Lace crowning my head and blue tufts
of wild anise. This field used to be corn.
Now Daddy’s old and doesn’t do that much
work. It’s a luxury to have been born
where I can see eye to eye with flowers
swirls, spirals whose minuscule white petals
blanket the whole ground, white as another
page where I may write but never settle
just like this meadow I am sitting on
will rise back up itself when I am gone.

It started to rain so I stopped at 6BC Garden to sit under the arbor and wait. Today stuff like rain was controlling me. Sunday’s supposed to be rest, but I’d been kind of aimlessly galavanting around and still had to finish this blog when I got home. The whole week it seemed that I’d got nothing done; more like I was done to, passive not active. I didn’t have conversations as much as I overheard them. Just yesterday, passing two woman on Avenue B, I heard one say to the other, “Remember that architect I dated? That was where we had our first date.” I wasn’t sure what restaurant she was pointing out, but obviously she was still thinking of the architect and I hoped that she was happy but it kind of made me sad. Wednesday, I was going into the McDonald’s at Saint Marks and Third Avenue because the ATM machine is free with my debit card, and heard one homeless man say to another, sitting at a table having coffee with their bags gathered just like everybody, “It’s sad to say, I hate to admit it, but you know Bloomberg wasn’t a bad mayor.” That made me smile. Monday, walking down Avenue C, I overheard a pudgy perhaps nine year old say to the woman next to her—I thought she was her sister—“Mama, why the fuck you say that?” It wasn’t the first time I heard a kid on Avenue C say Fuck, but it was the first time I’d heard the word angrily directed at a mother. My first impulse was turn around to stop her in her tracks and correct her grammar. I’d tell her, “It sounds awkward using the simple present here in a question without a helping verb. It would be better to say, “Mama, why the fuck are you saying that?” or “Mama, why the fuck do you say that?”

Then I wondered to myself in Victorian London, say, some hundred and fifty years ago, did poor slum girls say Fuck to their mothers? Child prostitution back then was pretty common, but would the language be vulgar or censored Victorian? Fuck is after all an Anglo-Saxon word that was delegated to the lower classes when the French ruled England and only French was spoken by the ruling class.

I’ve just googled “Victorian London child prostitutes,” and a lot of stuff came up. The following, the first of them, written in London in 1859 is pretty interesting stuff:

Of the lower classes of London society, it would be a matter of impossibility to give a description. They form the largest portion of the inhabitants, and with accurate accounts of them, many volumes might be filled. There is one class however, on which it is necessary to say a little, inasmuch, as it is connected with every every other class, and is as much an institution of London, as slavery is of the Southern States, or as free labor is of the Northern. This class attracts as much of the attention of the London legislators and the public press, as does slavery in the States, and should I omit it, the omission would be considered too great by any who know anything of London. I allude to courtezans. It is said, that these form about one-fortieth part of the entire population, or, are in number about fifty-five thousand. Many reasons are given why this class is so large, but there can be no doubt that the chief reason is, the general state of poverty among the lower classes, caused in a great measure by the wholesale system of taxation. The children of the poor, almost as soon as they can walk or talk, are sent to the workhouse. For girls, these are the primary schools for prostitution. The large number constantly leaving the workhouse for service, renders work scarce, and the number of the unemployed great. Thus, of necessity, they become vicious. There is not a particle of doubt, but that stern necessity makes more persons wicked, than does the love of iniquity. On the countenance of these girls, nothing but joy and animation can be seen, while the very vulture of misery is gnawing-hour after hour- day after day – at their hearts. Originally seduced from a state of innocence, and then abandoned by every one who held them in any degree of estimation, they are left upon the world, and have no alternative but to go on in the way they have commenced. They are then exposed to insult without the means of redress, imposed upon by the police, must stand all kinds of weather, often without a friend in misery, or a place to call home. Fifty-five thousand such creatures roam the streets of London. No wonder that the journals teem with cases of suicides. Of these, fifty-five thousand nine-tenths die prematurely of disease and in misery, having lived lives of almost unimaginable hardships, and having, during those lives corrupted twice, or thrice nearly, their number of young girls – to say nothing of the ruin showered upon strong masculine constitutions. In a police report, I recently noticed a return of four parishes, containing in all, about 12,900 houses, and 70,000 inhabitants. Of the houses, 510 were of ill-fame, and of the inhabitants about 4,000 were prostitutes.

W. O’Daniel, Ins and Outs of London, 1859

I bet child prostitution is a lot scarcer in New York in 2013 than it was in London in 1859. Many people I know would say that children in America saying Fuck is a sign of bad times, of the end, but perhaps we are living in better times if children say Fuck but don’t get fucked, or have to work in a sweatshops, or hawk wares or themselves on the street like the poor kids did in London and still do, sadly, in greats swaths of the world today. Little did I know when I began this morning that I would end the day writing about a young girl saying Fuck to her mother. Had the R train taken me to Governor’s Island the photos and the story would be different. Perhaps a photo of my friend Patricia reading, or the State of Liberty. I hope all of the readings went well. It was a good day for them. Now it is evening and raining, a little thunder. I will end with a poem. Why not Shakespeare? When English became English. Here is Sonnet 1.

Sonnet 1 by William Shakespeare read by Simon Callow from Don Yorty on Vimeo.

Sonnet 1

From fairest creatures we desire increase,
That thereby beauty’s rose might never die,
But as the riper should by time decease,
His tender heir might bear his memory;
But thou, contracted to thine own bright eyes,
Feed’st thy light’s flame with self-substantial fuel,
Making a famine where abundance lies,
Thyself thy foe, to thy sweet self too cruel.
Thou that are now the world’s fresh ornament
And only herald to the gaudy spring,
Within thine own bud buriest thy content
And, tender churl, mak’st waste in niggarding.
Pity the world, or else this glutton be,
To eat the world’s due, by the grave and thee.

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