After the 11th

- From the Bowery

Brenda Coultas

Working Note

The Bowery Project is centered on documenting and reacting to the layers of debris including human kind that layer the streets of the Bowery in NYC. Specify the brief section between Cooper, Union and Houston, an area that contains the remnants of SRO hotels and the remains of the 1890s Bowery that are slated to be demolished by The Bowery Development Plan in the next decade. I live a block from this section and travel through it daily. It will no longer exist by 2010, the artist co-op (Kate Millett lives there) that used to be McGurk’s Suicide Hall (named so because prostitutes flung themselves out the windows in a symbolic protest of their working conditions), the Sunshine Hotel, and various soup kitchens will be extinct. My intent is not to romanticize the suffering or demonize the Bowery residents but rather to comment on poverty, class, suffering, and my own dilemma and identification as a citizen one paycheck away from the street.

Physically, The Bowery Project also involves experiments in public character (inspired by Jane Jacobs) and the collecting of narrative images via Super 8 film and snapshots.

From The Bowery Project

Were they ever visible from this street? Does it matter if I say they were visible from Houston and Bowery if they weren’t, but most certainly they were. How little attention I pay to things outside my personal space, never had a reason to think about them, only used to wonder why I never took anyone there, and had meant to but was scared of them.

Thought it would come out in the writings like dreams or nightmares, it would manifest and that writing it all down was important if just to say here’s a document very pretty and well written, read about our reactions and grief.

In my city were people and no ark to save them just arms to carry them in. To say that I loved a city, a deeply flawed one but to know that I did and that my life might end because I couldn’t abandon it now. And if ever I would leave it would be for nature. Nature would have to make up what I lost in culture.

Although there is nature in this city: chunks of woods nearly identical tied up in string into a tidy bundle or slender slices of wood gently laid down by trash can and wrapped in some cord or string of various textures and sadly, big bustling log beams in dumpsters to be hauled away. But some of it is wild, there are morning glories thickly growing on the chain link fences, locust trees growing out of rock, but human nature is what the city grows best. There are peddlers laying out books in rows on sidewalk or tabletop, very good ones, and shoes lined up by size and color. One peddler ran after us saying “I will not be undersold.” The merchandise pulled out of garbage, reasonably clean, ready to wear, and ready to read very good books.

Man in turban wearing pin, read “I’m a Sikh, God bless America.”

Elbow pipe, wood stacked and tied in bundles, 2 couches across the street from one another.

(Oct 18, 01, 1st & 2nd Ave)

One evening there appeared 7 dusty theater seats circa 1900s, with a fleur-de-lis on one side. They were bolted to a piece of flooring, the backs were crimson velvet, and the leather seat cushions laid on the sidewalk. The chairs stayed for 3 days and were soon joined by an 80s office chair broken into parts.

I had seen a web site of haunted photographs, with ectoplasm and orbs and wondered what ghosts inhabited these chairs, what old bowery asses once sat there.

Later in same spot gold baroque chair, gone right away.

(Nov 12, 01)

Getting cooler at night , thought of how cold the workers hands will get. How cold until they suspend the dig.

(Oct 25, 01)

Protest by firefighters at ground zero, over cutbacks to firemen on site. Mail cart with 2 face masks dangling from handle.

(Nov 2, 01)

Two matching sofas with TV resting on seat. A day later, TV on sidewalk between them and only the wooden skeletons of couches remain.

(Oct 30, 1st & 2nd Ave)

Later man with bed roll sleeping by wooden skeletons and then two days later a man sleeping inside them with his shopping cart beside him, TV screen cracked on ground. Shell removed.

(Nov 8, 01)

Golden legless couch, early American style, 60s, where cushions used to be, the newspaper with a color photograph of the president and a flag.

Phone rang about 3am, no one on line, photo of dad face down in hallway.

(Nov 7, 01)

Bio: Brenda Coultas is a poet who lives one block from The Bowery. She has a collection of poems called A Handmade Museum forthcoming from Coffeehouse Press in Fall 2003. Her work can be found in the Conjunctions’ State of the Art Poetry issue. She will be a visiting poet at Long Island University in Spring 2003.

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