By Brenda Becker
So suddenly you slipped beneath.
You strode out strong across the unmarked white,
Footfalls plunging down on frozen turf.
If there was a sign—
Danger, Stay back—you missed it, future-drawn
Amid the bare trees.
And then, a crack;
A nothingness arose around your feet, and icewater closed fast around your heart.
I rushed out to the lake,
My mission clear,
Launched onto my belly, easy now, I’m here,
This is what I do.
Shifted and reached from deep inside my weight,
Nudged out the ladder, focused on your face,
a soft beacon of terror and apology
above the still dark island of your trust.
But the crust gave way,
The ladder was not long enough,
The water was too deep and cold.
I couldn’t reach you, had to turn away, but didn’t leave;
Together we waited, held apart by floe
Until the roar of rescue overhead
Bent the bare trees and opened up the sky.
Almost home, in the Parade Grounds, I happened on this sidewalk memorial. A quick Googling revealed that Tamon Robinson was a beloved employee in a Fort Greene "Connecticut Muffin" coffee shop where, curiously, we just stopped in last Sunday after catching a movie at BAM. We had wondered about the oaktag memorial poster in the window; apparently the young man was run down by an NYPD squad car last week under mysterious circumstances and later died. Not surprisingly, his grieving family is seeking answers. How he came to be mourned among the ballfields of Flatbush, or by whom, I do not know.
Gotcha! A week of late-May-like weather had everything bolting into bloom, but after a freezing night, some blossoms, like these magnolias on Wellhouse Drive, appeared to regret the hard-partying spring break.
In my own garden, the hyacinths pumped out their heavy blooms seemingly overnight, then dropped face-forward into the dirt. In the park, the daffodils seemed impervious to extremes, nodding in the chilly late-afternoon sun.
Songs of red-wing blackbirds richocheted around the lake shore, along with those of doves, cardinals, robins, geese, gulls, and a helicopter. Yet a deep stillness seemed to envelop the little Wellhouse, a building that always feels haunted to me. Perhaps it's because a vast well actually lies beneath here, its outline traced by a sunken circle in the ground.
Is wholesome even for the King
But God be with the Clown,
Who ponders this tremendous scene—
This whole experiment of green,
As if it were his own!
—Emily Dickinson, "The Single Hound," XXXVIII
The day after Thanksgiving involved pie for breakfast. Later, I dragged the three of us to the park. A brisk mid-afternoon walk, this time of year, quickly becomes a sunset walk.
Drummers' Grove stood empty.
Oak leaves piled up against the Oriental Pavilion.
Seed structures everywhere...in readiness for dispersal, death and rebirth.
We drank coffee on the Boathouse steps as the sun sank behind the trees.
Good Lord, Advent starts tomorrow...just in time to ease the heart as the shadows stretch their longest.
I cried over beautiful things knowing no beautiful thing lasts.
The field of cornflower yellow is a scarf at the neck of the copper sunburned woman,
the mother of the year, the taker of seeds.
The northwest wind comes and the yellow is torn full of holes, new beautiful things
come in the first spit of snow on the northwest wind, and the old things go,
not one lasts.
Autumn Movement by Carl Sandburg
Guest park for this Memorial Day: Cypress Hills National Cemetery, which I chanced upon while driving down Jamaica Avenue some weeks ago. A sea of white petals and tombstones under a weeping spring sky...no jumble of angels and Victorian mausoleums here, just chaste rows of nearly identical markers. Who were these marble regiments?
First set aside for Civil War dead (both Union soldiers and Confederate POWs), this is also the resting place of men who served in Verdun, in the Boxer Rebellion in China, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn in Montana, among others; there are even a few re-interred Revolutionary War vets here.
But the stones nearest at hand belonged to young men, presumably from Brooklyn, who served in the "Forgotten War"—Korea. Herbert Leonard (Infantry) and Patrick Montagano (Air Force) both died before their 20th birthdays.
It's strange just how forgotten this war is, since the brutal and insane dictatorship in North Korea is still jerking the world's chain and martyring its own people. Here is an excerpt from "Our War," by Korean War veteran Anthony DeBlasi, from a worthwhile site called Korean War Educator. Take a moment from those barbeques, beach trips and shopping sprees to listen:
In this "Land of the Morning Calm,"
No, Mourning Calm —
Lorded over by Chinese,
Savaged by the Japanese,
Ravaged by World War II —
Ever looking for a brighter future,
A gentle people, constantly misled,
Got hell instead.
When the shooting stopped,
Was it victory or stalemate?
After more than 50 years,
Some still wonder —
Why, why all that blood,
The unspeakable holocaust,
The infinite pain?
Was it all in vain?
Let no one doubt the outcome
Of that fight:
We put the murderous invaders back
Where they belonged,
And answered the respective quests
Of Kim and Mao and Joe
With No! and No! and No!
More: we helped the people of the south
Show their northern kinfolk and the world
The success of people set free
From fear and tyranny.
In every grateful heart —
Given a chance to live on their own terms,
Spared from further bomb and bullet,
Lord and sword —
We have our reward.
I suspected some artyfact-related shenanigans were afoot on Tuesday when I saw this curious object being reverently photographed by two people in wetsuits as it was edged toward the lake opposite Prospect Park's Boathouse.
Oh, dear. It looked like a fresh attack of Public Art. In parks, there are generally two types: the kind that sticks out like a sore thumb of artifice, and the kind that aims for homage to nature. Okay, three types, if one includes the Self-Consciously Fake Homage to Nature (like the shiny-silver "erratic boulders" that hunkered down near the Litchfield villa a few years ago).This looks like type 3.
Most of these efforts leave me cold, because they are overwhelmed by the profound, authentic beauty all around them. What might look majestic and intriguing in a loft or studio space tends to whimper and shrink alongside the magnificence of the simplest maple tree, much less a rock star like the park's tortuous Camperdown Elm (left).
(One big exception: the "Natural History" installation at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden by Patrick Dougherty, perhaps because of an inherent humility in its conception. It seems content to deepen the mystery of the natural world around it, rather than ostentatiously comment on it.)
My suspicions were correct: Art, incoming. According to the park's website: "Sculptor Robert Lobe is installing three sculptures that will be on view in and around the Lullwater by the Boathouse from May through November 2011. The artist stretched, gathered and tooled sheets of aluminum around trees and rocks to sculpt the skin of the forest." Lobe, a Detroit native, is currently an artist-in-residence at the LUX Art Institute in Encinitas, Calif., and he does wonderful drawings of trees and has taken gorgeous pictures of the Boathouse in winter. He also apparently welds in the snow, which is more guts than I've got. Maybe I will come to like his aluminum tree skins; I will try to keep an open mind. Meanwhile, I'm with Joyce Kilmer.
SPEAKING OF OPEN MINDS...
...I'm hoping to meet some at this year's Brooklyn Blogfest, tonight, May 12, 2011, at 7:30 p.m. at the Bell House (149 Seventh St. between 2nd and 3rd Avenues, in the groovy outback that some call Gowanus and I call Park Slump). I will be "facilitating" a breakout session, along with a fellow blogger, on journalistic ethics in blogging. (Like, is it ethical to say snarky things about art before it's fully installed?) If nobody shows up, the topic will seem like a real punchline, so I hope we get at least a few souls to hash things out. It's a great program and always a good party, should be worth the $15 price of admission!
A quietness distilled,
As twilight long begun,
The morning foreign shone,—
A courteous, yet harrowing grace,
Our summer made her light escape
Into the beautiful.—Emily Dickinson
A million back-to-school dramas played themselves out all over the city, books banging and bells ringing. But in Prospect Park on Wednesday morning, it was a peaceable kingdom of little ones, nannies and mommies, enjoying September's unbroken stream of sunny days.
Happy hearts and happy faces,
Happy play in grassy places--
That was how in ancient ages,
Children grew to kings and sages.
-- Robert Louis Stevenson