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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Hopeless victims to fate

Oct. 18, 1980

I don’t know why I’m out here, crouched along the riverside under trees I know can’t protect me from the oncoming storm.
I’ve become one of those fanatic joggers I used to mock for being out in every element, trudging through rain and snow with more determination than the mailman (or woman).
Across the way, huddled under a corner of the bridge, some young kids sit, drawn to the river to see the impact of what local forecasters are calling “the storm of the century,” to see if it lives up to the tales their parents and grandparents told of storms past.
The wind gusts stirs up old leaves from the wet earth and shakes new leaves from the tips of the trees. The slow water near my feet bears the burden of these bodies, multi-colored vagrants slowly sinking as the ducks and geese – unwise to have stayed north – float among them, seeking shelter among the roots of the stronger trees. The weak trees shake and fall especially the least rooted near the islands at the river’s center.
Many geese hide under the bridge’s dual arches, despite the gusts that rush through each. I see only hints of them in the dark, a white head here or a green back there, waiting with wonder of their own since  even they could not have seen such fury as this.
The small falls are fluffed up with froth as the water tumbles over the lip, the heavy flow dragging over objects too heavy previously, such as the shopping card and old tired that had stood like icons at the top for the whole summer.
But we have not seen the worst of the storm yet, getting mostly wind as the rain follows, rain filling up basins upstream so as to send this furious flow to us now. I am wet, but not soaked, and should take cover, but won’t, needing to feel this just as the kids across the river do, to have some story of my own to tell my grandkids when they face their own “storm of the century,” years from now – and wondering if my storm will live up to the storms I’ve heard of and if others after mine will compare to this.
A gull cries overhead, and I feel for him. He is tossed around in the wind as I am by time, both of us hopeless victims to our fate.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Drizzle in Ratkowski Park

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The water runs clear here this morning despite the heavy drizzle. I stand beneath the twisted limps of an aged pine tree, which keeps neither rain nor wind off me, but provides some other protection I struggle to define
Geese squawk where the rocks hug the water and the green slime paints the legs of the wooden platform the fishermen use.
These men (most always men) have lines strung out into the bad regardless of the weather.

We are all invulnerable here, taking refuge in the cool embrace of this place. We are the regulars who refuse to fade, clinging to these shores even at risk of frost bite or sunstroke, often devoured by vampire mosquitoes, our blood soaked through with West Nile or lime disease though each seems less threatening than the nihilistic life we lead elsewhere in the far colder yet overheated city where we have no significant, or comfort, or even elderly pine trees to protect us.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A three-sided square must fall down

January 9, 1989

Every time I see the geese, they are never flying south: their patterned winged formation soaring over my head with general precision, their direction always in the mind, the compass points sharply engraved.
They always seem to know which way to go, where to stand or land or feed, who to trust, and again, whom not to, the inner alarm of danger sounding off again, when I see nothing.
They know. And they rise in a fury of feathers, seeking space, seeking that which will allow them to trust again.
Who knows how they know?
But who can blame them when they leap to false alarm, the curious child rushing to them in the erroneous effort to hug.
Even a child’s strength can crush them.
And who can say that such a thing isn’t in the child’s heart from the start.
And me, I stagger along this waterway looking at the old buildings leaning in towards the river, one large gray box with one side gone, ready to fall, waiting for a good gust of wind to knock it down – one more thing that will set the geese to flight.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

What I once was

October 3, 1980

A cold wind ripples the surface of the brown water, smearing the reflections of otherwise crisp colors.
The air, chilled with the first hint of frost, makes everything vivid above, a sharp blue sky, distinct pine needles on nearby trees, and stiff-edged changing leaves still flapping on the end of branches.
October isn’t always cold, but it is this year as roadside vendors pile bright orange pumpkins in preparation for Halloween – the day for which marks the real change of season from fall to winter, even if the calendar says differently.
People on both sides of the river stock pile firewood, dragged up from the banks where dying trees have fallen, but reluctant to set any blaze until the deepest chill sets in.
It is the scent of burning woods that makes me ache most, filling me with some odd mood, not the Christmas spirit exactly, but almost.
I used to cross the river here at the Outwater Lane bridge to trick-or-treat when too many cheapskates on the Clifton side refused to give candy to kids dressed up as witches and ghosts claiming the whole ritual was against their religions when we all knew they just didn’t want to give any candy to anyone at all.
I always stopped mid-bridge to peer over, hoping to see my reflection in the water below, but never did, needing to know what I looked like in my latest disguise.
I never really liked being a monster, but always something real, from tolp-hatted rich guys to floppy-hatted hoboes, sometimes even a sailor or a spy.
A few kids cross the bridge now, deserters from Paterson or Passaic, whose parents have arranged for them to attend the better schools on the Garfield side, they, too, halted mid-bridge to stare over the side, as if unable to believe who they’ve become and perhaps to wonder if they were revert back to what they were when they re-cross the bridge just as I did way back then.
Gulls hand over their heads, crying into the vivid sky, a few bar wallows weave up from under the bridge’s arches. Somewhere on the far side of the river, church bells toll, rippling the air the way the wind does the water, making me feel small again, making me wonder if I might become what I once was if I cross back over the bridge to the other side.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Night on the island

October 12, 1980

Autumn has hit the river with both barrels, a shot gun blast of multi-colored paint, changing what was once green into a smattering of red, yellow and orange.
I’m slightly farther upstream from where I usually stop, and the change gives me a different view of the river, allowing me to see places where Dave and I used to wander as kids – the wider water where the shores are filled with reed and fire weed, wide enough for substantial islands to rise up out of the flat water.
These are deceptive, a fact we learned that night when we tried to camp out on one of them.
We thought we were clever enough when we thought to drop our great down onto the island from the bridge, so it did weigh us down as we scurried there from shore. We even put up a pup tent with a sealed bottom against the wet.
Perhaps the lack of firm soil to pound the pegs into should have told us something. But by that time, we were too tired to think of anything but sleep.
The rain came in the middle of the night, pounding on the tent top with both fists and woke us up.
Dave looked out and reported in a panic, “The island is sinking,” which wasn’t exactly accurate but I got the point.
While we had spent many rainy days near the river in the past, we never took notice how the river rose to cover these islands.
But that night, we took notice, scrambling out to have the soil beneath our feet turn to muck, sucking at each foot fall as we collected the wet tent and moist gear to make the terrible trek through the gushing rush of river water to more solid ground near shore.
Now, more than 20 years later, I still feel wet just thinking about it, and still feel the ach to go back – though Dave never would, my life caught up in mid-stream, changing colors with some strange change of season inside me I can’t explain.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The beach at Liberty State Park

July 5, 2013

My heart beats to the beast of the waves on the short, jet skis stirring up the f4rotn near the mouth to the boat basin, sending ripples to this stony shore – the life blood surging in and outside of me, filling me up, then draining me again, so now I feel hollow.
I feel the tension in the water ease only after one of the large ships pass, the tiny faces of its passengers grinning out at the other shore where Manhattan’s skyline grins back.
Those few who cling to this side wait for the icons of the harbor, the place where my ancestors landed in their arrival from the east, or the French statue standing utterly erect, green and stiff with its pale torch uplifted to illuminate this harbor long after these ships have passed.
I stumble among the stones on this short shore, searching for treasures I can never find, the detritus of some past disaster washed up here for strangers to claim. These shores are so historic that I might claim some famous general’s wooden teeth (does he need him with so famous a bridge named after him?) or the bullet what laid waste a founding father on the bluffs just up stream from here.
I find nothing except the empty shells the gulls have picked clean, a treasure for the ancient Indians maybe who polished them into money. But here these are part of the endless waste cast up between bits of brick from some demolished foundation, and the chips of wood from ships sunk in the nearby sea – ships whose masts crisscross the muddy bottom like religious icons.

Walking here, I find company in the loneliness because it is all around me, and inside, stirred up and then calmed by the coming and going of tides over which I have no control.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

After the storm

October 19, 1980

The sun glistens across the river from the falls to the foot of the bridge – so bright it stings my eyes and makes me look elsewhere, bright but not warm enough to remove the chill of the wind last night’s storm left or restore the leaves left homeless under the relentless rain.
Gulls cruise the blue sky eyeing the rain elevated shores, the grass near the top still glistening from the west even as the water recedes, testifying to the onslaught the river suffered.
It always recovers and its beleaguered citizens always return, geese floating near my side, ducks in the shallows on the Clifton side. Some even linger near the lip of the falls, floating near the glistening edge as they hunt for food.
None of my human friends share the river with me today – no fishing lines spread web-like from the sides of the bridge, no old men gathered behind the Service Diner to smoke and gossip.
Colored leaves continue to flutter from the tree limbs with each gust – red and yellow snow destined to turn brown after a time in the bright, bleaching light. The most solid green is fixed on the far side where a stand of pines pokes up from some hill well beyond the river, a boasting from a breed less subject to the fickle whims of the seasons.
For some reason, I ache for winter this year, like I have rarely done before, perhaps because I hope real snow will wash away the summer dust lack of rain left inside of me.
I am always amazes how affected I am by this place, feeling the pain of this river and the changes it undergoes, feeling it flow through me as if my blood, my feet still moist from the first time I set food here at three or four or five, not this part, but that curved part that circles the City of Paterson like a crown, me asking my mother at the time why the water was brown and not blue, and she telling me simply: “That’s the way it is,” while I still ask the same question all these years later.