New Lenses and Language

New Lenses and Language

The first half of August is always slow. I remember a quote from the beginning of Natalie Babbitt’s Tuck Everlasting:

The first week of August hangs at the very top of the summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless, and hot. It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too much color. Often at night there is lightning, but it quivers all alone. There is no thunder, no relieving rain. These are strange and breathless days, the dog days, when people are led to do things they are sure to be sorry for after.

Granted, these sentiments do not perfectly correlate to my experience in New York over the past two weeks – today does mark two weeks on the job – but when a paragraph like this one sticks with you from the moment you read it, you know it is evoking something deeper, something powerful.

For me, early August always meant that the sun would begin to set noticeably earlier and a chill would overtake the early mornings on Lake Champlain. I would begin to realize the impending changes and do my best to savor every day. For late August would always take on an entirely different feel: a return to Williamstown, or later Middlebury, and the commencement of another season of soccer.

I reflect on these periods of my life because my seasonal rhythms have been thrown out the window this summer. I entered my new life in New York at a time where everyone else is leaving the city to take those last weeks of summer vacation. Things move slowly, and the expected bustle of the city is subdued by the summer humidity.

Still, as I move around, I am confronted on a second-to-second basis with new things to observe: views, aromas, unique atmospheres of each block, and, of course, people. One of my goals post-Middlebury has been to continue with my writing. This blog is a great reason for me to write, but with so many opportunities for inspiration around me, I have launched back into writing poems.

One of the best pieces of feedback that I received from my poetry thesis adviser and second reader was that I do a good job creating characters in my poems and speaking from disparate points-of-view. I appreciate the process of turning an observation into a story. Sometimes the result strays from where I intended or represents something so far removed from who I am that I have no idea how it came to be. But I always find that in creating a voice, one that is different than mine, I learn about myself. What follows is one of those poems.

TIGHT ROPE

We’ve seen each other more than once
across the empty space —
a drifting shadow on sunlit mornings,
a candlelit blur through evening’s blinds;
we hear the same cacophony
rising from the street below,
though whether you and I discern
the same melody from the madness
I cannot be sure.
To call it a street,
that strangled stretch of cobbled walk
and calloused hedges dividing our buildings
is to give more credit than it deserves —
and I say “our” buildings
because there is no better way to put it,
but we both know there’s no ownership
on this block —
nothing possessive,
no personal touch, no sense of pride
in the square footage that we are leasing
on annual contracts —
just an endless array
of 4’ x 4’ windows radiating outwards,
refracting around corners
and below the pavement,
but never really stopping.

I’m speaking for you, I realize,
but what choice do I have?
These aren’t the types of walls
that would talk, if they could.
I catch glimpses into your world,
one that could so easily be mine,
but at the closing down of each day
I find only my reflection
in your dark, despondent window.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall,
Who’s the loneliest of them all?

 I dream of crossing paths
somewhere far away from this place —
Greenpoint or Poughkeepsie or even Malibu —
a silent nod of recognition,
a smile —
a back and forth
that begins somewhere out there
and returns with us to our separate
but coalescing spaces —
blurry moments growing clearer
in the sunrise gleaming off your window
and into mine —
false pretenses stripped down,
no need for these questions
of proximity and perception.
I’ll throw a rope across the chasm
and be your modern-day Philippe Petit,
waltzing high above Manhattan
and over to you.

But today is choked and dense
and ungrateful, so inward I turn.
It is early and many hours lie waiting
before I dream again,
and imprisoned I’ll remain
by your shuttered window,
my fragmented illusion —
no portal into your life
but a mirror turned on mine.

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