MISTAKES THAT HIT HOME

Busti & GeorgiaThis image shows a section of the Lower West Side, Buffalo, NY,  demolished in 1966, as it appeared in the mid 1950s. The view is taken from City Hall. School #73 where my Mother and her sisters attended in the 1930s-40s is in the middle ground. My father grew up in the red-roofed house closest to the dark-colored warehouse in the center of the image.

Through the 1930s and 40s my mother’s uncle, uncle Russel, ran a newsstand in the lobby of Columbus Hospital on Niagara Street, a few blocks north of where demolition of the Shoreline Apartments is going on today. The hospital no longer stands. The neighborhood it once served no longer stands, either.

When I was ten, whole city blocks of Buffalo’s lower West Side, including the homes of my grandparents and our extended family, were razed for what was ballyhooed by city government and echoed by the press as urban renewal. The upheaval was a milestone in my boyhood.

In “Creating Neighborhood in Postwar Buffalo, New York: Transformations of the West Side, 1950-1980,” Caitlin Boyle Moriarty discusses the Waterfront Renewal Project that had resulted in the erasure of the neighborhood I knew as a boy. Project planning had been announced in 1958 so that by the time homes were razed in 1966, most homeowners had stopped investing in maintenance and improvements.

Many didn’t wait for their homes to be condemned. Some, like my mother’s family, had already moved to larger or newer homes in other parts of the city; others, like my Uncle Len, struck out for the suburbs. A good number of properties that had previously been occupied by their owners were rented out, typically to newer immigrants. “Thus, it became a ‘slum’ in the public imagination,” Moriarty writes, even though “the designation of the area as ‘blighted’ was more a political maneuver for redevelopment than an accurate portrayal of neighborhood conditions.” My grandparents didn’t want to move. I witnessed vociferous arguments between the younger generation of my father and the generation of my grandmother. In the end the conclusion was, quite literally, “You can’t fight City Hall.”

Soon the families became involved in the excitement of moving to new homes, an excitement that masked somewhat the loss of the mesh of community values and history which demolition would entail. I remember seeing drawings in the paper depicting the modernist 20th-century structures that would replace a portion of the old neighborhood, and I was filled with civic pride despite myself. Moriarty includes a pair of aerial photographs from the map library at the University at Buffalo. One shows the area of dense housing south of Virginia Street and west of Niagara as it stood in early 1966. The other shows the interrupted street grid, the snaking Lake Shore complex, and newly built expressway ramps as they appeared from over the same area in 1978.

The Shoreline Apartments, at the time they were erected at such cost in 1971, represented the “new,” the “future.” The humble homes of my grand parents’ neighborhood were erased as the old and irrelevant. The current demolition of those once futuristic apartments is strong evidence that they should not have been put there in the first place and that the urban renewal practices of the 1960s were a big mistake.

ball and ball

ball and ball

ball and ball
and ball and
the sun
and any
thing round, a
head and a
ball and
breathing,
breathing,
breathing,
when there are thoughts and
bouncing,
bouncing
and
a ball,
a ball, and
there is someone there, no there is no one there
is only
a ball
bouncing, and
breathing
and any
thing round
like two
symmetrical
breasts
small
little
perfect
breasts, not
quite the same
size
the smaller
one,
poor thing, how
lovely you
are

Composed: 7-11-88

First published: Folio Magazine. Tala Rahmeh, ed. American University (June 2007): 22-3.

 

A CROCUS

On an afternoon in the first week of January—
or was it in the last of December?—
(time drips slow & gray counted that way)
a tiny crocus on these bleak hills
that flower so reluctantly
in the center of a brown mud track.

dry hills

We may sense that there’s drama here
in its brief day
out of a thousand seeds
the bruising wind ranged against it
the oblique sun,
and this crocus is the perfect actor:
no need for the director to shout above its head,
Don’t THINK just DO IT!

Would not so small a thing be lost
in one of Edwin’s pictures,
as though he paints on canvases
come ready made with flowers
growing there?
But no, he takes care with each petal,
the lush patterns dwarfed
by magician, tower, sea.

edwin painting

What about the poet?
He sits in his tent and broods
believing himself scorned.
What could he do but trace in each detail
of its translucent line his own ghostly pain
stabbing at himself?
Leave him.

In fifty years
Turkey will be completely desert.
But life clings yet to these slopes.
If you stood up here above the lojman
on a busy night, what music you would hear!
Rock, pop, jazz, Tom Waits!
Tanya’s Russian melodies, the twins sharpening their bows.
You might even hear Nadine
practicing her guitar.
No one much likes silence down there.

view

Composed: 1-11-96
First published: Current Accounts 23. Rod Riesco, ed. (Winter 2006). Print.

Note: photos are not mine.

STATIONS OF THE CROSS

STATIONS OF THE CROSS

Everything is dying, & nothing dies.
Artists pave the same new way.
Christos! When will you have done your dying?
You sad Madonnas! When will you put away your black dresses?

Her arms spread above her head—
Her latest Christ kneels
before her, muscles tense
for fresh sacrifice.

Composed: 7-10-95
Frist Published: Current Accounts 23. Rod Riesco, ed. (Winter 2006). Print.

Note: I wrote this after a summer visit to Montedoro in Sicily where I have relatives. The town had commissioned the construction an elaborate Way of the Cross to the summit of a local hill. The image of a man kneeling at the feet of a crucified woman comes from something I saw on TV about the same time.

LE TRAC

LE TRAC
Matisse at the window

Total pictorial intensity, the stage
spread with expression, the wave
held up for all to see—the circus balance
between feeling & will, the broken
flowing of the dancers, tables arranged
with crystal & oranges, colors
exchanging lines of force like lovers
in lazy luxury of calm desire:
Form from within, worked & re-worked, until I look at last
upon my own mind: until all I see & the world I move in
aspire to be one of my pictures. The blank canvas
easeled near the window waits again
energy of eyes’ urge for hand to answer.
Look how it trembles! The Seine
a plane of light, the church
above the bridge, all a bleeding blue. Ah!
but not the piercing blue of Nice, for where
is the star-bright splash of Icarus?
the tiger’s strip? An image, that’s all
I am to you! I tell her she doesn’t understand. An image,
an image is expression, the form intuition takes,
creates, the refined performance of all I feel & know
of thee. She opposes me, my nerves are bad, my voice
stutters. I feel stuffy as a banker in this shirt.
Shall I strip, paint my body blue
& roll across the scissors?

Composed: 5-8-97
First published: Nexus 43. David Nichols, ed. (Winter 2007): 49. Print.

SELF PORTRAIT

SELF PORTRAIT
Alan E. Cober, 1997

Wind whistles through centuries waking devils—
the wind rattles through walls
shaking down a turbulence of images.
This ruddy, bulbous nose
my ears, senses, eyes, hands—
the flesh of me feels deceptively moored & stable
but I spin in a vortex.
You spin in one, too. Though I show the same face
as the moon, I belong only to the vanishing
instant. I am already my own cadaver.
The calm behind these supple brows is alert
to that certain prophesy.
The wind has bleached the light
spits rain, creates floods, unearths bones—
slits open the brown valley.
How soon these pigments perish. They fade
as does your own seeing.

Composed: 6-25-08
First published: Write from Wrong. (Sept. 2010). Web. <http://writefromwrong.com/2010/09/14/poetry-september/>

 

Psalm Something

PSALM SOMETHING

ona bike, it’s easy ta coast
accumulated spiral streets
asphalt for silica, concrete for curbstone
of rock built up, chamber by chamber
melted & cast, moistened & worn
by all the natural processes of memory
portraits of formal elegance in the balance
of dilapidated storefronts
the filaments of lives & histories

in the old attic, what was felt, the
weight of each individual thing
fusions of hands & eyes
dampened reverberations under the steep roof
buzzing summers of nesting wasps
the slight sucking of linoleum
footfalls on the narrow stairs
corroded & yellowed silver inner workings
of the dormer mirror honeycombing an image
a child’s dim face

we collected each morning on the black-topped schoolyard
groups of trousers & jumpers keeping separate
in a calliope of sizes, heaped under heavy winter wraps
’til sister empties her bell & we
fall in line, watching little cyclones of wind lift
streamers of snow, resisting
order & it was easy to see self had no boundaries
zigzags of sisters & brothers shading youngest to oldest

or one saw turning one’s head
in the tiny church vestibule in stormy weather
most everyone one knew, their naked eyes, raincoats, rubbers
mittens, hats & heard all one knows
in their voices down to one’s own thoughts
clutching the same books, anger, laughter, favorite things
the full globe of parish families embracing each other
in their children, Lord, Thou givest them, they gather
Thou hidest Thy face, they are troubled.

Composed: 12-16-92
First Published:  Fifteen Project. Pat Lawrence, ed. (2008). Web. [defunct]