She puts one foot in front of the other. One word in front of the other. One word at a time she motors down State Street past the orthodox church where tradesmen plane a gothic door laid out on saw horses, thinking I am no longer thin. I am no longer young. Words have gained weight. They gather at her waist. Narratives tangling around her ankles. How to untangle and venerate?
How to tackle the split infinitive? One foot is all it takes, the other being willed to follow. Arms along for the ride, her mind galloping before her, sniffing at the hem of a boy in an oversized Curtis Brown T-shirt wired into his iPod.
This is what she means: moments sliding like oysters on the tongue, salty and filled with the dreams of whales. Moments spread thick as peanut butter. Moments silky and curved as the Queen Anne armchair she sat in Sunday on DeKalb a pumpkin on her lap. Could it fit in the sitting room? Could she carry it home? Is there ever enough pie? There is a hum in her ear when the wind passes, her thoughts winging the air, nestle in a window box and peer down at her suspicious in Sly leather, glory of geranium and butternut light so nutmeg and soupy the tip of her tongue responds.
Threading and threading she is thinking that this moment corresponds to pan-fried zucchini blossoms. For no reason they collide and she comes to a stop outside the chain-linked bamboo garden. The city is padlocked, double padlocked, razor-wired triple-chained: New Yorkers clang through the subway. Boys afloat in a sea of basketball regalia beg for swipes off her unlimited metro pass. A man hunkers on the steps with six strollers strapped together gnawing breadcrumbs. She thinks of the garter snakes napping under potato leaves, the deer nibbling on bush beans, rain collecting in the crevice of leaves.
There are people, she thinks, who still walk on earth. Her foot taps the concrete, pulls at the lock wondering who has the key? To whom might she inquire about walking under bamboo her feet on the grassy path?
On past the Rent-a-Buggy, and Smith Street she stops at State and Boerum where there is a widening. A suburban flattening. Cars blunt and nosing toward the Brooklyn Bridge, which she considers crossing now. But no, she thinks, suddenly sad. Perhaps it is all waste? And then the sirens wail, pigeons fanning out against grey stone, a woman in seventeen layers of polyester pushing her battered blue Eazy Wheels. The night before, in a Starbuck's a white woman crying because no one would give her a cigarette, wondering if the backless earring she had found under a bench in the train station was diamond. Scratch it, son of a bitch, scratch it on glass…fuckers, who would miss one cigarette?
Who, who, who would miss one gesture? Who of us can lift our heads from our accounts? There, she has hit the edge of the pool and like a swimmer kicks off toward joy. Up State where they file chained black boys into Court and on Court Street she passes tables of books and feels blissfully inconsequential to the narratives. Here words are not meant for her. Here no one tries to sell her their wares.
Shuffle and shuffle with bags from Conway and good women offering Jehovah's word. Tiny boys in suits, girls in lace, faces grave as lawyers. Families sorting business in shopping carts, babies handed back and forth casual as gift bags. Not the Nannies of the boardwalk gathered at 10am for coffee and gossip, all those pale faced babies in carriages crying in unison as tourists snap photographs of lower Manhattan, heads towering where the ghosts lay.
This is not to be noticed. We walk these streets unaware of the cacophony of immigrant workers wringing out under every welcome mat. The Latinos on the corner at 7am waiting for paneled vans to stop and carry them to far away lawns, or apartment complexes, or building lots, hard hats in hand. And oh my beautiful ones, who wouldn't want to walk these streets? Heel after heel, pointed and dulled, tasseled and flip-flopped, the world treads on this berg. Dull and fringed it penetrates the earth as deep as it scrapes the sky afloat in the Atlantic.
We must wait for time to unfold. 1 We must stand in front of Chase Manhattan and consider umbrellas. We must be sensible in stained leather. We must insist on the moment, nothing more than the moment, how perfect to bend down and pick up the Doritos bag, the Odwalla bottle dropped at one's feet because we can, because it is our concrete as much as anyone's. She mutters, Love the concrete . Love the car that cuts across. Love the man that brushes your ass toothless and smelling of subways. Noise is a symptom of poverty, she thinks, but not in Manhattan.
What matters , she mutters. What portends, what offends? What, in the off-chance, is penetrable? If there is light her head lifts. She dreams of unmaking. Whole stretches of concrete rip open before her. She is on the prow of the cement breaker unearthing the unsentimental layers.
Now she walks past brownstone and iron. Windows tall and flowerboxed. Chandeliers framed. Here where Auden walked, and O'Hara. Along the promenade, down Orange, up Clark she winds, winking at shitsus and terriers, at babies captive in strollers, at the white six year olds with polo shirts screaming You're stupid! at blushing nannies. Everyone on cell phones, clinging. The wind so fierce the Staten Island Ferries tumble like cakes of soap and she turns her collar up high.
Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse (back)