Pico de Orizaba

Pico de Orizaba
Taken from Huatusco, Veracruz, the closest town to Margarita's family's ranch.

Friday, July 22, 2011

A Moment in the Life of a Walking Poem in Brooklyn and Manhattan...

I didn't "publish" onto my blog various letters and poems I wrote between 1999 and 2001 thinking that I would dedicate a few weeks towards writing about my life as an "artist" in Brooklyn, the 5 years before leaving for Mexico.  The problem is that I remember so little of the details.  Why is that?  I believe that immersing myself in the Mexican Spanish language and all of the conflicts I have encountered here, caused the shutting down of the English side of my recent memory.  My Brooklyn experience was incredible.  I left it behind because I knew that I wasn't going anywhere there.  Granted, I was meeting some wonderful people.  But, New York City became horribly expensive with the apartment rent deregulations in 2000...  Plus, in as much as I loved the intensity and vitality of New York City, I also longed for living closer to nature...  I thought the best of both worlds would be Portland, Oregon or Seattle, Washington.  But for some reason I ended up in Mexico instead.

During the history of 20th Century art, there is a "school" of painters called "Naive Art"...  One of the concepts behind Naive Art is the idea of not focussing upon realistic or accurate portrayals of human, animal or plant forms.  Many of the artists paint figures and objects like one would think a precoscious child would paint.  When I think of my lack of artistic training and the conflict between that lack of training and my perfectionism, I consider the artistic validity of the Naive Artists.  What liberty I would experience if I could release my critical eye and perfectionism from my drawing and painting.  When I read my poems, I sense clearly my poetic naivity.  When I think about my experience in New York City, I see myself as that same naive walking poem on the streets crossing Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx.  It's too bad I've lost all of the spoken word I wrote in 2001 and 2002.  Reading these naive writings I feel inspired, I feel transported back into a long lost dream, back to a person I ceased being when I decided to become a man in Mexico.  What does it mean "becoming a man"?  It means putting aside fantasy and poetic styles of being for a responsible planning.  It means putting aside self-indulgence and destructive egoism for better relationships with others, especially with my wife, Margarita.

Halfway into my relationship with Mónica the Puerto Riqueña, I fled my apartment on the edge of Prospect Park for the alternative cafés in the East Village of Manhattan, "Alphabet City" before she returned from her work in the evenings.  I met so many people, men and women.  So many alternative styles, so many artists and poets; Americans and internationals...  My life was a mixture of exploration, trial and error.  I was 28-years-old.  I was the same age as Van Gogh when he started painting...  I lived a semi-crazy life.  But I wasn't crazy.  They say that Van Gogh was schizophrenic...  I don't know about that.  But I know he was very anxious and he was a hell of an artist.  People said that I drew and painted like him.  After reading his biography, I stopped looking at those paintings and drawings.  And I worked actively towards removing that anxiety from my artwork. Now I'm not so concerned about that issue.  I am Ross with all that that entails.  But, truthfully, I stopped "liking" the artwork of Van Gogh.  I find it very stressful and depressive.  People also said that I painted like early Picasso and Francis Bacon.  In fact, the man who said I painted like Francis Bacon and whom I met in one of the coffee houses where I was drawing asked me to paint the backdrops to his theater production on which he was working at that moment.  I didn't paint for him.  I imagine the reason was because he couldn't pay me.  Or maybe he was gay and I was afraid he was hitting on me.  Or maybe I was afraid because I didn't believe I was at that level with my painting...  What I remember vaguely is that I didn't understand his "language."  He was mentioning things and people so foreign to my experience.  Francis Bacon?  Sounds Revolutionary War history.  Wasn't it Lord Francis Bacon or Sir Francis Bacon?  How could my style have been like that?  Had it not been for these people saying these things about other artists and my drawing and painting style, I would never have known about those artists.  I knew about Klimpt and Monet and Van Gogh and Munch because of the posters the university students had on their walls.  During my first week at Hampshire College a poster vender visited the campus and set up infront of the library.  I saw The Scream and had to buy it.  During my 3 years at Hampshire, I had The Scream on my door as a reminder of how I felt day in and day out struggling with the complicated "curriculum" requirements...  I was naive. I am naive...

I met people all over the city.  That was such a wonderful experience, an experience horribly lacking here in Mexico.  Every once in a while I remember a friend or an aquaintance I had.  But I don't remember their names, nor how or where we met.  Or maybe I remember the hows and the whens, but I forget the whys, hows and whens we stopped being aquaintances.  I met people in cafes, on the subway, in parks, in museums.  In New York City there is no limit to the possibilities of friendship and other forms of relationships... For me to write adequately and accurately my experience in New York City, I must remember these people and those experiences; what we did.  Paul the Lebanese poet I met at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and who took me to an Arabic writing center/library and read me the most beautiful Lebanese poetry.  He was Aries and had a horribly explosive temper.  The last time we saw each other he almost punched me in the face.  Why?  Bi-Polar?  Very expressive?  I remember going with him to an Egyptian club off Delancy Street.  I remember him picking up a very elegant woman directly out of a hierogliphic...  We bumped into her at an art exhibition in SOHO.  She didn't take any of his shit, although she enjoyed his poetic game.  At another art exhibition to which Joey invited me (years before we "fell-in-love") Paul hit on a French woman and discovered that her friend Delfin (Dolphin in French) needed a share and I had a room available...  Delfin was an aspiring actress and singer and drove me crazy with her Edith Piaf she was practicing for an off off off off Broadway musical theater performance.  If you want something to do in Manhattan or Brooklyn, just hang out where the artists hang out and you'll be invited to theater, musical and dance performances a few times per week; to art exhibitions and alternative parties...  I remember going to CBGBs to see a wonderful female folk rock singer who was a Johns Hopkins friend of Mónica's older sister Sinsi.  The friend rocked the house.  But couldn't gain a recording contract because she was one of many female singer/guitarists with a Melissa Etheridge style in the late 90s...

I met many young women while drawing in the cafés I approached them awkwardly due to my shyness or they approached me due to the intrigue of a man drawing intensely in a café.  One day a young woman approached me saying that she knew me at Hampshire, but had dropped out after the first semester.  At the time she worked in a café in GreenwichVillage on 6th Avenue.  She was interested in me.  But I was concerned about the fact that she still lived with her parents in New Jersey on the other side of the Hudson.  She was a Capricorn; I was attracted to her witchlike darkness...  For some reason I bumped into her randomly in the 3 sides of Greenwich Village.  I remember bumping into her in the predominantly gay café in the West Village, The Big Cup.  The last time I saw her Vicki and I were walking hand in hand on the Bowery towards East Houston one night in the East Village.  The Capricorn was with a friend of hers and was excited that they were on their way to a Natalie Merchant concert.  But she noticed my hand in Vicki's and I never bumped into her again. 

I stumbled across two poem letters I had written to women I had met during that period of 4 months between Mónica and Vicki.  For the life of me I didn't remember those women.  I wracked my brain until I figured out who was the woman of the first piece I'm about to share with you.  And remember that I met her where I met Mauricio, between Bleeker Street and 8th Street, where Michelle told me that she could imagine us marrying and raising children, although she was Lesbian, where Joey and I parted so many times when we were just friends, hugging at the top of the subway stairs infront of Joe's Pizza...  Little by little appear the memories.  But I won't have time for this this time around, since 18 hour days of 25 days straight work calls us in two weeks...

To Anne Marie Drummond Lee:


I had wanted to kiss her so badly. Her lips. Her jaw. Her chin. She in mid-sentence. 
The compulsion... I couldn't understand such desire...  

Have you ever passed a bakery, the sweet smells wafting out the door... You can almost see the aroma butter and cream and confectioners sugar passing beneath your nostrils. 
You become the main character Looney Toons or Tom & Jerry cartoons, the scent becomes a finger beckoning you through the thresshold, a winter wonderland of buttercream, edible pink cupcakes sprinkled with multicolored ice pellets; pastries covered with a dusting of sugary snow. If you're strong enough to continue onward, you hear strawberry shortcakes calling your name, pursuing you for blocks and blocks and blocks. 
Puerto Rican Confectioners in Spanish Harlem 115th Street to Kosher Bakeries -- Chocolate Ruglach and Babka -- 72nd Street - West Side - to 2nd Ave. of the East Village and the Lower East Side to Borough Park, Coney Island, and Forest Hills. Posh French-Italian bakeries in the West Village, the East Side, Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill and Park Slope. Lebonese Baklava of Atlantic Avenue, Greek Baklava from Broadway to Ditmars Astoria. Russian Bakeries in Brighton Beach, Ladies Fingers and Halva at Damascus Syrian Bakery on Atlantic Avenue in Downtown Brooklyn.

Is your mouth watering? 

The longing, the desire, 
the compulsion so strong an aroma you can taste it?
That was me. 
Foolish me. 
Impulsive me. 
And she sat across the table unaware that beyond enjoying her conversation, I struggled against interrupting her flow of words with a kiss. 
The softness of her lips, 
the shape of her jaw. 
No, I wasn't thinking about drawing her face, although the curve from her eyebrows through her nose was the line of early Picasso cubist paintings. 
it had nothing to do with that.
My powers of control... 
The notion that a kiss would be much too presumptuous a notion... 
Broke down. And I kissed her. 
I had no intention beyond a hug. Beyond a hug. 
But I must hug her. 
had we not hugged we could never continue this friendship. 
So I sheepishly asked her if she hugged. 
And we hugged on the corner of West 8th and 6th Avenue (twice mind you). 
The first time... 
Well, it was just a sign; 
a very good one at that: 
As the hug ended and we disengaged, my head turned, 
as if directed by some inner spirit. I kissed the side of her head 
above her ear. 
And she said, 
"That was a nice hug." 
And I am glad. 
But I kissed her. I kissed her lips for the world to see 
(twice if you don't mind knowing). 
Of course that wasn't my intention. 
It was as if the hand of God had intervened. 
Although, of course, it was a gentle touch the second time. 
So, just possibly, the goddess Venus passed her hand down my spine. 
Just because it was devine intervention doesn't exonerate me from concern. 
I kicked myself down the steps onto the subway platform. 
Apologies trailing me as I paced the length of the platform, hoping Scott was home, 
wishing that Just Maybe One Of These Damn Phones Worked! 
"Oh My God Scott. I don't know what I did! I just kissed Anne Marie and I don't know if she'll talk to me again!" But my train came and Scott wasn't home anyway.

Yet, I know it's OK, 
because there are much worse ways of showing affection to a person you recently met. 
And, if in fact I was a frog that could never turn into THAT prince, she would get over it one of these days. And who ever said that being kissed by a frog was REALLY that traumatic an experience? I just hope that I didn't trespass. 
For I don't think that would be fair. (AYE YA YAY! TRESSPASSING? I KISSED HER DAMN IT AND THAT'S THAT!  GOOD FOR ME. THANK GOD I HAD THE NERVE TO DO IT. August 2011 editing)....

So, in any case, 
I must apologize for the little boy in me 
forgetting that just because it smiles at you from the other side of the window 
doesn't mean you can take it home with you without permission.

I didn't see or hear from Anne Marie after that meeting. To her email she had given me, I sent her the poem or the apology. She never responded... Why would she respond to a sheepish fool who just ruined the spontaneity of what happened that evening?  In anycase, she probably had a boyfriend and was thrilled at breaking those rules.  Afterall, she hadn't done anything.  That was foolish me...  Stupid, naive Ross...  

I have absolutely no idea who was the recipient of the following poem, what happened, how we met, nothing.

To Margarita Agudelo:

If I could
Shake this dizziness
And join the morning sunlight rays
Glinting off ridges of water
Lower lake...
Had I known
You were a swan gliding across the surface
And I a dove wishing for a deeper connection
Expressed wordlessly in song
Carried upon the backs of leaves;
Petals floating in your wake...
Should I discover
The essence of day lillies bathing in June's sunshine
And Weeping Willow hair kissing the soft skin of your watery pool in July...
Then Maybe...
Just possibly we could discover the nest
Laying somewhere between my words and my thoughts
August's poetry

Sat quietly perpendicular to my profile Friday night 
as I struggled with migrains and 
intense infatuation with a woman with 
soft brown hair and coffee colored eyes in a pink blouse.
How I wished I could stare at you indefinately 
without causing you discomfort. Yet, 
I also understood the discomfort I created within myself 
by looking at you and not 
being able to draw or write or even speak. 
A poem is just my expression of appreciation; 
gratitude that, even if just for a moment, 
your presence brought me closer to my heart. 
I wished I could understand what lay behind your eyes.
If you could understand...
If you could comprehend...
Then... Maybe
Just maybe you would know that I
Am affected by
Things beautiful and true (did I hear someone say "gag me with a spoon?")
That my heart communes with butterflies and wildflowers
Ducks in flight
That when I'm touched by a woman in sight
I understand that sense, essence and sensuality
Are inseparable from pollen,
The scent of honeysuckle carried upon breezes,
Horses grazing in fields wild and free,
Cats laying against one another asleep.
That moment I sensed you...
That moment was enough to remind me what it means to be alive.
And why we must cherish the interconnectedness of things.
And why I couldn't just walk away

OK.  That poem wasn't so bad.  But it did embarrass me at this moment a month or so after actually writing this on my blog...

In August 1998, I was drawing in the cafe at Barnes and Nobles on 7th Avenue in Park Slope. In front of me were two woman, one of them strikingly beautiful with long curly brown hair.  I tried drawing them subtly but they noticed me.  One of the women approached me, looked at the drawing and beconned her friend or sister over to my table.  They were very impressed and the woman I was drawing asked me if I could give her the drawing.  I said that the problem was that it wasn't finished.  She responded that it wasn't a problem and gave me her telephone # and asked me if I could paint her at her house...  During a brief conversation with the potential model she told me that she was Colombian.  I sensed a romantic risk in the tension or the insinuation within her invitation, since New York women don't hand out their telephone numbers to strangers and invite them to their house during any given day, when everyone else is working.  I started creating stupid fantasies in my mind and became scared.  What if she is married and her husband is drug Capo?  I never called her.  However...  The woman sitting at the table next to mine had been paying much attention to the conversation and approached me after the Columbian woman left.  She asked me a bunch of questions and then suggested we find a more private place for talking in a corner of the basement floor where the occult literature is found.  We talked a lot about who knows what and then she got up to go.  At that moment I had a brief crisis; the conversation about who knows what had a lot of sexual tones, as if we had met in a bar or at a party.  (No, I don't believe it had a lot of sexual tones.  But there was some sort of energy telling me that something was happening other than Johanna offering to model for me...)  I didn't know Johanna more than an hour, but I felt that there was something I must do.  So I suddenly grabbed her by the back of her neck and pulled her mouth against mind.  (No, she got up from where we we sitting on the bottom floor in a far hidden and intimate corner of Barnes and Nobles and said that she had to be somewhere.  So...)  Surprisingly she opened her lips and received my tongue passionately.  When we withdrew from the kiss she said to me, "I was wondering if you would finally make the move, because, had you not kissed me, I would have understood that we had absolutely nothing to do together."  It turns out that Johanna is a poet of Egyptian-British descent and writes a lot of feminist eroticism...  She suggested we meet the following day, but at my apartment on Seeley Street and Prospect Park SW.  

I haven't written about how Mónica and I met, about the "horrors" of our relationship.  That means that I can't write about how she finally left my apartment after battling with her for 9 months...

About a week or so ago (I am re-reading this piece August 11th) I was inspired to write in depth about this experience, how it finally freed me from the relationship with Mónica and about the beginning of my relationshio with Joey, etc...  However, when I was about to send it to a friend of mine on Facebook, I lost the piece.  I also lost what I wrote about how Mónica and I met and how that was related to Cathy telling me that she had married Billy... Divine intervention.  Who knows?  Now that I am about to start selling coffee intensely for 24 days, the thoughts will come out clearly and I will be able to share with you something I believe can be very interesting. 


Jenny said...

This struck me like a thunderbolt, because I so identify: "What liberty I would experience if I could release my critical eye and perfectionism from my drawing and painting." That is what I think, deep down, about the writing I hesitate to begin. I read something to this effect, too, on Wikipedia tonight, about the possible connection between meditation and art--that same letting go that, paradoxically, reaches best . . .

Jenny said...

I never know what to say after reading that you won't think is flattery. I guess that means I'm disarmed, which is also the point.

I loved the bakery aroma series . . .the lady fingers. Thomas Wolf has a line in Time and the River, in connection with his first love, her plumbness and "all the lovely lady fingers . . ." I'll have to hunt it down, that quote. Funny, isn't it the web of associations, the contagion, the interlife?

Jenny said...

I cannot imagine living in such a rich environment. I live in a sterile, suburban town, all Republicans, all alike. I starve for the companionship of artist and poets.

Ross said...

Jenny. I yearn for that life too and for some reason I don't write about it; those 4 or 5 years as a crazy artist in NYC. I guess I am ashamed and don't truly know what to do about it... Would you believe I've never read Thomas Wolf in English, but I believe I read him in Spanish... I don't remember the name at the moment. It takes place in Atlanta about an ex college football star turned real estate tycoon; a really wonderful message in the book... When I am in "English" mode I don't have access to Spanish memories. When I am in "Spanish" mode, I don't have access to English memories... I believe I'm just beginning to write again... We'll see. We start selling again tomorrow. The pressure cooker causes better ideas, better creativity. But it also creates inflexibility... Thanks for taking the time out for contacting me.