Tuesday, February 28, 2012


I have a thing for the moon.

I used to do this trip quite a bit when I was a baby poet. I used to think I'd finally gotten my city dweller card when I made it down there without an automobile.  Tarrytown Metro-North train to Grand Central. Cross to the 4 train, one stop to Union Square. Forget where the carajo I'm going. End up on 4th Avenue. Lose sense of direction. Curse self. Wonder what those scrolling numbers on the building mean. One block over to University Place. One block down to 13th Street. Stop at slamming pizza joint. Eat slamming pizza. Over to 35 E. 13th Street. Climb 37,189 steps to Bar 13. Easy!

There was a waxing crescent moon in the sky last night, which means it is approaching full. Apt metaphor for me as I stepped out of the subway in Union Square yesterday, this time in the correct spot, gathering my strength. That moon had followed me all the way down the Hudson Valley outside the train window, I was certain. Just as certain as it followed me on the walk from my car to my apartment in East Orange, New Jersey. Or Paterson. Or Highland Park, when I was three. I sat at a bench, fully 45 minutes early for the festivities, and put my head back, and closed my eyes. Years before this, I'd be sweaty and disorganized, worrying about what I was going to read, shuffling the papers in my bag until I found the right order of poems. I still get nervous, but the shakes come much earlier now, so I am able to be present, and calm, when the reading approaches.

Ten minutes on the bench, and the dude next to me taps me on the shoulder. He is, apparently, a person who saw me host a reading with Rosa Alcala at McNally Jackson books, which means I'm probably now the second writer from Paterson he has met in person. Kudos are given for my insightful questions. I invite him to my reading, and get a big thumbs up in response. Awesome! Do you, man! That's wonderful! What are the odds, I wonder. Maybe that's what the giant numbers on the building are calculating. Fully convinced that I am the king of New York—and fully aware that Union Square doesn't give a shit—I get up and step away to East 13th.

Thirty thousand steps later, and I am at the doorway of the place that nurtured my earliest urges to curse out rappers who worship Che Guevara. I was still in my twenties when I started. I was alive, but rife with insecurities.  Almost too alive. In 2004, when I briefly considered the prospect of doing harm to myself, I did so because the poems, and all the self-examination they entailed, made me feel a sense of hyper-awareness that no one told me to be ready for. My ears, my eyes, my skin, were all turned up to maximum volume. I could hear and taste every extra syllable and salt particle. It was both unbearable, and exhilarating.

Since 2003, this was my epicenter: a bar near NYU, usually well-attended, even on Monday, and almost always full of the poets I'd either seen on HBO or the previous Friday at the Nuyorican Poets' Cafe. Other spaces would follow for me. But it was the Monday night reading that set me on the path to perdition, and it is always the moon that leads me.

I am feeling alive as I enter the room. Only, beautifully, alive. I am not on edge, or breathing heavily, or noticably sweating. And I am divorced, a fact that several friends had not known about until the awkward question. I handled it with far more grace than I would have been capable of in October, another fact of my life, relatively simple. I did not drink, though I know I could have. I did not sit, because that was never my habit before a reading. There were new friends present, and all of them knew the words to Nadie Como Ella. My old friends loved me newly. And I was in love with the moon, like I always was, and for the first time in years, I used that voice to speak.

What did I read? Poems, of course. What else do you do when you're home?

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