Keith Geekie
My Trip to New York:
Containing Stops at Ground Zero, Battery Park, Wall Street, The Hilton New York, Times Square, La Boheme on Broadway, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with Digressions. March 20-21, 2003

At Battery Park over the hum of a ferry comes the call of a single gull. Rows of empty benches line the ground where spring hasn’t come yet. Then the harbor, the sea, a horizon of mist. The statue is shrouded, seemingly a shadow, a dark thing. A kid on roller blades. Two couples kissing. A child. It is quiet enough to count, a day you can enumerate like descending from 55th Street. Listing, she says, is a fundamental cognitive skill. The ancient Mesopotamians, the Sumerians in fact, south of Baghdad, throve and fired clay tablets in profusion on which they’d affixed lists. I remember a Sumerian tree, golden leafed, a goat of lapis lazuli peering out from amongst its branches. Knowledge, she says, was then accrued, additive. The sky, heavy with rain, has no discernable clouds. The trench is a shadow also, shored by fence and sidewalk. A crane. An I-beam cross.

It’s the third Friday of Lent. Pain dissipates, like too much beauty shocking the heart and opening it. Out in the harbor the sun breaks across the waves like a blade of silver. The left wing’s leading edge buckled to a star-like conflagration and muffled into canyons and hills across Texas. The harbor goes cold again. A single flake of confetti snow drifts through the stage-light long after the scene has shifted to summer. The tall ship’s rigging tangles with the suspension wires, netting the gray light. In a plasma storm somewhere over California the breakup began trailing debris down the nautical miles.

Water lilies float on a lake of blue and Vincent’s irises bloom on a lavender wall now faded to white. The great chandelier is draped, muted now against the incandescent bulbs of the Left Bank. The couples sing and kiss. The rain will soon run as through gullies down the windows of our bus. Conflagration muffles down and black sheeting hides the shattered façade by the trench. Lilies float on a lake of blue but perspective can so warp and twist the middle that the flowers seem to float in separate pools. The toes of Buddha’s servants curl, anchor themselves and streamers of seaweed seem to float toward some unseen surface.

There aren’t any children on the jungle gym. The day is so quiet you can count it. Surgical strikes. Flames dissipate across the plasma screens and wrap buildings like tickertape. Iraq’s central command ignites one day early and twenty thousand troops advance. On the steps of Federal Hall two young men talk quietly. From a time before Chaucer the toes of Buddha’s angels grip the clay. Following the lines upward through the pink and green foliage, you come to a face nearly lost. The ancients are ghosts, the scholar says, to whom we owe fidelity. Pain dissipates like a plane hitting hard and muffling up the slow incline to the rich brown stone, dark like fresh dug gardens or fallow fields waiting for wheat or our own hearts unsown, our toes digging into the clay of Western text and the muffled bombs of shock and awe rise to the level of twenty-eight floors as the elevator broadcasts CNN. They’ve taken the border towers. The day is so quiet you can count it. So few are the headstones in the Trinity churchyard you can learn the names. Mimi, by the way, still dies though the story has moved to 1957, and Rodolfo still suffers and starves. And somewhere soldiers fall, perhaps beneath those towers. By order of the Port Authority of New York you may not sell relics here. Buddha rests serene so high up the wall, so deep in the clay he seems scarcely a cloud in his own firmament. The terra cotta wall soars up against the dark sheeting of its neighbor like a ribbon into the gray. The Asian scholar speaks of indirection, the array of possibilities, a universe of 10,000 things. To say, he says, is to risk; to risk is to die. The naturalist from Boston intones that immature students rhapsodize; they are on the lookout for epiphanies. They overwrite. He prefers, evidently, close watching, better to enumerate than to feel. What he calls sin is perhaps life.

At the intersection near Federal Hall, men with rifles stand at barricades, and the Exchange is draped in flags. It is so quiet. Vincent’s bouquet from the later hours of his life lacks gravity and its thin lines of paint, barely touching, seem so delicate that at any moment the whole of it will blow apart dandelion-like. A waterfall of glass. Windows of varied design. Leaves waving beyond the panes. Listmakers, she says, have the urge to be exhaustive. There’s lightning in Manhattan and the street streams with rain. The twilight remains. In Corot’s landscape, though, near at hand lies the familiar, the path so often walked that its ground is almost stone. Breathing like evening, the trees fold inward, but the foreground fades to the distance where the eye is lead, to the golden pool at its center.