The groaning city in the gathering dark/On some solitary rock

The writing workshop is at its halfway point and for the first time in my writing career I feel like I am knee deep in a subject. This in nothing new, I have been in the middle of a few ideas at various points but this time around it seems like the poems are pulling me in and threatening to come up to my neck. Not a bad place to be, all and all.

The only fear at this point is what happens when my workshops are over and this outside group is no longer around to bounce the poems off of? Can I keep up this pace of a usable poem every week? Mind you, nothing that you have seen posted up here in the last few weeks is a final edit. All of these poems still have a couple of other filters to go through before I can say that but I can say that they all have something going for them. Ah, the cry of the optimist.

As you may have guessed, the subject at hand is the Bronx; to be specific, the South Bronx circa 1963-79, which would cover the completion of the Cross Bronx Expressway all the way to the release of the Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight.” This era heralds the decline of the Bronx as a residential, almost suburban, borough that was home to a diverse working class into a burnt-out ill regarded extension of the city that would not only recover from a near decade of government neglect but would birth an entire new art culture into the world.

In the midst of all this social upheaval is me and my family getting by on what we had, which wasn’t much, and still surviving without anyone going to jail, getting strung out on drugs, robbing folk, getting harassed by cops or any of the other situations that seem apropriate. Which puts me in a strange position: I want to write about the conditions surrounding how I grew up but I don’t find very much about my childhood remarkable. I want to let people know that this exoticized past wasn’t all that exotic to the people living through it.

The more and more I research the condition of the Bronx from a strictly statistical viewpoint, the more and more I feel like I should be getting a medal or some type of commendation for making it through that time period intact. At least, that’s what the statistics suggest. The truth, in my case, is that I didn’t become a gangster or a break dancer. I did go to a few parties but my taste in music actually pulled me towards Depeche Mode instead of Kool Moe Dee.

Luckily, I got through a copy of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities which has certainly broadened the definition of city. I am thinking now of the city that has traveled with me to the West Coast; this part of New York that I still see at random times. From time to time a vision of something that very much feels New York or Bronx or Snackbox or Vision Net or an old playground or all these things at once will appear and I swear I’m the only one that can sense it.

This is the story that is inside of me, the trick is to get it out there without creating a romanticized veil of details while staying true to my personal memory, the historical facts and the shared memory of place. Word! Word, to all the mothers and the fathers, too.

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2 Comments

  1. I was JUST discussing this with a friend of mine. My childhood is that of a regular, middle-class, somewhat suburban Latino kid, who grew up with other Latino kids, not necessarily speaking Spanish but definitely parented and raised by folks who spoke English funny. To what extent is this perspective expected or unexpected? How does America view us PuertoCuban mixed up Latin people? Do they view us at all? Piri Thomas wrote the definitive post-immigration urban survival story. I feel like I have the definitive post-post-immigration suburban pork-eating story.

    Now…if I can only make it work…

    I guess you’ll find your way through your personal history in the same way…staying true to your perspective. Let’s do this shit! Rockeros and 80’s freestyle enthusiasts everywhere are waiting to buy the books! :-)

  2. >>Luckily, I got through a copy of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities which has certainly broadened the definition of city. I am thinking now of the city that has traveled with me to the West Coast; this part of New York that I still see at random times. From time to time a vision of something that very much feels New York or Bronx or Snackbox or Vision Net or an old playground or all these things at once will appear and I swear I’m the only one that can sense it.<< ob, i loved this way of thinking about the city. also, i was reminded of yr post while reading h.d.’s poem, “cities”, from her 1916 sea garden. it’s pretty imagistic and supremely removed from historical context, but the feeling left — the waiting not just for the new beauty of cities but for people to finally understand and recognize what beauty will come — had a kind of nostalgia that reminded me of what you were saying here. although i think perhaps “cities” for h.d. might be a metaphor for the whole human race. not sure.

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