Three Photographs Taken around the House at the Request of Anselm Berrigan and Tom Devaney for a Mysterious Future Project
1. Front Door
This is my house. I have a picture taken of it sixty years ago. There was no light in front, no towering plane tree at the curb, no bars on the window. And no Chinese takeout menu stuck in the door. Why not? Were there no Chinese restaurants in Brooklyn? Did Seth Low not have a yen for sautéed snow pea leaves at his desk? Did Whitman not crave an egg roll or two? Or maybe the First Amendment rights hadn’t been firmly established yet. Today, we proudly exercise that freedom: dinner on the table in fifteen minutes and free Cokes, too.
2. Helen Adam’s Stones
Toward the end, Helen was convinced that she was going to jail. Then, she said, all her beloved books and pictures and objets d’art would be thrown in the trash. And there were many books and pictures and objects, so many that you couldn’t spread your arms and turn in a circle without knocking several things down. Nothing could shake Helen’s belief that prison was waiting, even when I pointed out that a woman in her eighties could probably commit murder and not serve a day. But she thought she had made a mistake in some Medicaid papers “and you know, Bob, that’s a federal crime.” So each time I left her apartment, she would press one of her prized polished stones on me, so it would have a loving home. We played that scene six times and six stones now sit on the mantel, guarded by Lizzie’s sort-of-Peruvian figure, a staunch defender even though she may actually be a cookie jar. Helen never went to jail, but when she left the apartment for a nursing home a few years later, everything she owned was taken away by lawyers.
The streams that once flowed through New York have all been covered over and the hills have been flattened and the Singer Building and the Old Post Office and Penn Station have been torn down, but there are new urban pleasures. Such as black plastic garbage bags. Here we see a structurally arranged group, with dazzling silver highlights provided by the afternoon sun. On wet days, the bags form innumerable little craters which fill with rainwater and reflect the gray sky, with each fleeting bird repeated over and over. At night, the massed shape might be a Claes Oldenburg Volkswagen. Or a slouching beast. Or a thousand pounds of mashed potatoes. Say, it’s like living in a gallery! And I haven’t even conjectured on what my neighbors have put into those bags. Did one just move?
Lucca: Twenty-Minute Walk
The Pakistani peddlers of fake
Gucci bags fade into the stonework
as the police step through the mist
The Senegalese umbrella-sellers
look to the woolly gray sky and smile
Our hearts are pure and we
ignore the rain
enjoying homely pursuits:
Louise buys a yardlong rolling pin
Donna buys a tiny purse
I forget to look for the shoe store
owned by the family of Violi’s mother
When I call to Donna in a crowded
shop, does it sound like macho rudeness?
And back to the Piccolo
Hotel Puccini, which is
very piccolo, indeed – fourteen
splendidly overheated rooms, each
with five layers of window covering
and enormous keys shaped like
I part the curtains and the shades
and the shutters for a look at San Michele
across the piazza The facade of
this church was a tool to instruct the
illiterate faithful who apparently wished to
teach cows and pigs how to dance
up the sides of buildings, for there
they are, climbing toward Michele
himself, astride his tower. His feet could
start tapping any minute.
Robert Hershon's most recent poetry collection is Calls from the Outside World. He is co-editor of Hanging Loose Press.