In my words, August 12 – 18

Today, Sunday the 18th, looks overcast. Some large truck is hissing; the M9 bus goes by quieter disappearing as it heads toward Avenue C. I’m going to the gym in a minute and will work on this blog when I return, two things you can count on.

My Yahoo account was hacked on Wednesday, the day before my birthday. Everybody whose emails I have, hundreds of students here and in China, colleagues and friends, got an email from me saying I was robbed in the Philippines and needed them to send me money, $1,850 to be exact. People I hadn’t heard from in years called and messaged me on Facebook. Not only was I hacked, I couldn’t get into my account; my password wasn’t recognized, and when I tried to reset it, that became a task too: Yahoo wanted my new password’s verification sent to an address I suspected was the hacker’s. So, to verify who I was, I chose to answer two questions I’d submitted in 2009.

The first question was easy. What town was your mother born in? That was Lebanon, PA, the same town I was born in. But the next one was tougher. What is your favorite novel? I couldn’t remember the answer and typed in El Llano en Llamas because that was my favorite in my 50s, a collection of short stories by Juan Rulfo, perhaps the most intensely beautiful book ever written. But El Llano wasn’t the answer so I typed in Lost Lady by Willa Cather, which would have been my favorite novel in my 40s, but that wasn’t the answer either. My favorite in my 30s, the novel I have probably enjoyed and been thrilled by the most is Wuthering Heights. Was that the answer? Or had I picked a novel from my 20s like The Idiot or Sometimes A Great Notion or Mama Black Widow by Iceberg Slim? I was concerned Yahoo might bar me if I kept typing wrong answers so I thought carefully, paused and typed Wuthering Heights and that was it.

Your birthday puts you in your time with everything that happens in it. Next week will be the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s I Have A Dream. When I was fourteen, I listened to him give that speech because I was sick in bed. For years I remembered Dr. King giving it in the autumn because that’s when I was more likely to be home from school and sick in bed. Who gets sick in August? I’m pretty sure the march was broadcast on all of the networks because ABC, NBC, and CBS carried real time political events back then: Eleanor Roosevelt’s funeral; Churchill’s; Adenauer’s, the political conventions from gavel to gavel. At the age of fourteen I was intrigued by the spectacle of politics and would have watched Dr. King give his speech even if it were only on one channel. Rocky and Bullwinkle would have waited. The march was big; even Marlon Brando and Charlton Heston I remember seeing; and thanks to television, I was brought from my disparate point in time to be a part; I was there.

You have to get older to understand your place in time. The day Ava Gardner died I began to understand mine. It was January 25, 1990. I was working at the Anne Klein showroom midtown displaying watches and saw on the front page of the New York Times that she had died. “Who’s Ava Gardner?” the young receptionist asked. “She was an actress. She was married to Frank Sinatra.” “Oh,” the receptionist said, “I’ve heard of him.” I realized then and there that there were things this receptionist would never know that I would never forget. What makes us part of a generation? Partly it’s the places and the faces every generation gets.

If you live to be about forty-five, you have lived long enough to notice how Life changes. Where you grew up will change and the people you grew up with get older just like you; and those who were younger and older than you get older too; and you see what people get from what they do, karma written huge. I grew up on a mountain. My brother, my sisters and I played wherever we wanted, swam in the lake a mile away, looked for snakes in the swamp, or where the stream came splashing down the mountain jumped from rock to rock as big as the heads of dinosaurs, but all of that has changed. There are billions more people one earth now, and some of the more affluent ones have moved to the mountain, chopped down the trees and put up Mcmansions. There is even a golf course. You would have to be as old as I am—I’ve just turned 64—to remember the mountain then.

A road through the South Mountain


Garden stripped bare by my father even
and square, August’s last scallions are rent
where radish seeds now planted will augment
autumn’s table. Beyond was forest, then
this rolling field. Where the groundhogs fatten
used to be acres of corn. I saw with
summer gone it dried to its very pith
rattling stalks full of happy rabbits and
grasshoppers dancing in the last warm sun.
Who remembers the forest or the field?
You’d have to be old to know they were real.
Without the corn the pheasants have all gone
and I am going back to the city
back to—oh déjà vu!—reality.

On my birthday my nephew Matthew and his partner Marc took Akram and me out for Indian. I am who I am always complaining about things like my weight. I didn’t want to post the photo below because I want to be twenty pounds thinner in it, but Akram said, “Forget it.” So I’ll forget my vanity and listen to the doctor. Dr. Akram knows better. What if everyone in the world stopped complaining and counted their blessings? Let’s start. Here I am. This is me.

When I was 34, Jackie Curtis used to tell me that I looked like Alain Delon. We thought about making a movie together, out of one of my poems, Poet Laundromat, but that never happened, partly I guess because Jackie died.

Thirty years ago I did make a film directed by Tom Miller and it was Poet Laundromat. I am going to digitalize it soon. Till then, here’s a still and a little bit of the poem.

from Poet Laundromat

…like the last bit of juice
you suck from an orange
you hold and squeeze between your palms
as underground pressures below and above
one day will push sand and fossils of us
into stone
where our carbon in one eon
will make a diamond
out of pressure and with Time
as poems are made in the mind
where thoughts touched by flesh
within centuries of a second
are pressed
into many layers of illuminous words
crystal sparkles
flashes of light
that is the Light
but another’s light
who’s caught the Light
sending it right
into our eyes
where it always was we realize
zapped understood
with sudden sight…

Evening from my window. Happy Birthday, everyone.

Evening 9th & C from Don Yorty on Vimeo.

Sonnet 94

Last year my father had a little stroke.
“Merry Christmas,” he says and then corrects
himself: “Happy Christmas.” That’s a mistake
he realizes after he says it
and lowers his head. This in reference
to my own birth on August the 15th
which is today. How many important
and unimportant facts come crowd our heads
to their eminentest extents added
the very first minute we remembered
the word to say exactly what we meant?
Oh where is it? The word I need to name
both you and me. “Happy Birthday,” Daddy
finally says laughing triumphantly.

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