Monthly Archives: June 2011

lincoln center fountain

I took this photo of my husband at Lincoln Center, sitting on the famous fountain after the swing dance.

lincoln center fountain

silhouette at lincoln center

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midsummer night swing

midsummer night swing  bandstand lincoln center

bandstand at lincoln center

Dancing is truly alive in New York during the three or four weeks of Midsummer Night Swing, a festival that ranges from hot club gypsy swing to Funk to Latin jazz.  My husband and I went on opening night having “won” free tickets online, and we had a great time dancing in the open air in Damrosch Park next to Lincoln Center.

The temperature was perfect with a light breeze. The sky turned from teal blue to that mauve which is a New York midnight.  Dancers came from all over the city. I finally started to recognize people from Frim Fram, the Alhambra, the Plaza Hotel.  Our hands were stamped in invisible ink that glowed under a blacklight and earned us entrée into the outdoor dance floor.  I could describe the glowing bandshell, the Jonathan Stout Orchestra featuring Hilary Alexander, the boating party flavor of the white railings around the dance floor that reminded me of a Renoir painting.  I could tell the outrageous anecdote about the cop who stole the water bottle we’d paid $3.00 and drank it right in front of us. I could finish my entry with an epilogue of us eating dulce de leche ice cream at Columbus Circle, teasing each other about taking a carriage ride through Central Park, as if it weren’t a Monday night and we were on a first date.

Instead I’ll let my poem take you dancing…



Midsummer Night Swing

Sometimes I forget I live in New York
only to emerge from Grand Central Station
after a long talk about not-belonging
and see a city grown up around me.

Times Square is not New York.
It’s America’s largest, brightest chain store.
We have to walk there sometimes,
but at least we get to pass the library lions.

Sometime later, we emerged at Lincoln Center
belched up on Broadway from the labyrinth below.
There were people in evening clothes,
square marble buildings, fountains, chandeliers,
singing a dirge for High Art
that the Broadway Melodies can barely hum.

And behind that, a little pavement park
with metal Aemes womb chairs disguised
as park furniture, was where we were heading.

Lights looped around a bandshell, a dance floor.
Glowing balls capped each temporary column,
changed colors throughout the night, depending
on the key and tempo.  B minor in Blue.
A major in Reds and Oranges.

As we danced, breezes blew my dress.
Airplanes flew above the skyscrapers
like escaped pigeons.
Blue and gold searchlights, beacons
on the tops of buildings
floated like balloons in the night.

And we, the children on the ground,
were dancing, spinning, looking up,
closing our eyes with the music
wishing the lights could rain down.

Summer felt so near, and the lights
like lost balloons, hovered in midair.

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“bring it on home to me”

The Immortal Sam Cooke

Sam Cooke,
the Bodhisattva of Soul
is playing on the radio.

He’s sending us, twisting
along the pretzel highways,
makin’ sure we feel

Don’t fight the feeling,
sings Sam,
You gotta feel the feeling.

The Adirondacks become
the Catskills. Mountains give way
to blue skies–driving skies
full of cupid’s arrows.

Sam sings:
It’s too hard living
but I’m afraid to die.
I don’t know what’s up there
beyond the sky.

And I’m hoping that maybe
when that yellow line runs out,
there’ll be a different home to greet me—
or the same home, just this time
it’s the place I’ve always longed to be.

Years ago, somewhere in Oklahoma,
cruising in the middle lane of Buddha,
I wiped the sleep from my eyes.

My father sang as he drove us
towards tomorrow:
I was born by the river
in a little tent,
and just like the river
I been runnin’ ever since.

It’s still a long, long time coming, Sam,
and a longer time to come.


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plages sauvages

My husband is reading “All the Devils Are Here” about the housing subprime crisis that got us into this mess.  He noticed that they kept talking about “homeowners” and “buying a home” instead of a “house.”  Since I’d explained before that “home” was more a state of mind and “house” was more a bricks-and-mortar affair, he was understandably confused.

Ah, yes.  I forgot to tell him.  That’s what the American Dream is all about.  People think they can buy a home when they’re really just buying a house.  This is really why we’re all here.

The French would never dream of buying a “chez moi”– for them “maison” is good enough, says it all.   But it seems Algerians– those from Béjaïa at least– hope to buy a little cottage next to the Mediterranean, where they can swim on the “plages sauvages” without running into tourists.

Security is a funny thing. Some find it in a breakfast nook, others in the air blowing off the Sea.

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“a woman who cuts her hair…”

"Roman Holdiay" 1953. PARAMOUNT/The Kobal Collection

Audrey Hepburn in "Roman Holiday" 1953. Credit: PARAMOUNT/The Kobal Collection.

I keep trying to write about my hair

I would love
this poem
to curl a-
my  finger
and spiral like a




my back.


I would love
to wield such
a trick as that
like I was told
poetry could be
when I was ten.


For me, “Yes, And”
was the double line-
in a short story:

a space, a silence,
a new beginning,
a wormhole ellipses,
erasing what the reader
thought he knew.

But I never learned
to leave history behind,
even when I was
making it all up.


In jazz, it’s the breaks,
the rests,
that coax the music
from the notes.


I keep trying to write about my hair.

That is to say, about
the whim on which
I straightened it.

which is to say, about
the kind of hair
society prefers

in other words,  about
identity and why my curls
are Jewish, not Croatian.

I start but never finish,
drift aside to houses
and homelessness,
to family and fate.


I had a “That Girl” flip.
It felt silky smooth,
I didn’t love, didn’t hate it.
I suppose that’s how some
women feel
about fake breasts.

I felt like Mrs. Jetson.
I felt like Mary Tyler Moore.

It was like wearing high heels
borrowed from a friend–
they’re not really your style
but they get you noticed.

In Roman Holiday,
Gregory Peck says
to Audrey Hepburn:
“a woman who cuts her hair
is about to change her life.”

I say, what else
is in her power
to change?

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only poems can talk to poems

Afraid to open the email
because I will find the truth.

Afraid not to respond
in case your poems stop.

Don’t know what to say;
there are no more seasons, only semesters.

Both of us locked into coffee breaks
that lead us to close book covers
without reading a word.

Some things are broken by talking about them;
like ammonia, communication
can be or a poison or a salve.

Only poems can talk to poems.
Sonnets are all that we can dare to sing.

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whither the weiner

The number one rule of the digital age: anything online can come back to bite you.  Yet individuals, even “digital natives,” still routinely overlook this simple fact.

Politicians seem especially in denial in their belief that privacy still exists online.  Under the law it does; under contract with your Internet Service Provider, good luck!

Look at Anthony Weiner.  Nice Jewish boy who stood up for single-payer health care and the 9/11 first responders.  He is a principled politician who got things done and didn’t compromise his principles for political face-saving measures.  He scolded those who have done our nation wrong and defended what he believed at the top of his lungs.  What’s more, he’s had a history of having a good sense of humor, relating to the young people, and not taking himself too seriously. (When John Boehner mispronounced the Representative’s name on the House floor, Weiner replied: “It’s WEE-NER. Embrace it brother! Only I get to make the wiener jokes in this Chamber.”)

Of course, he too, confused political power with sexual power.  In this age of cynicism, it’s more shocking to realize we are still capable of BEING shocked and disappointed than it is to hear any particular sordid detail.  It’s the surprise of the junkie who manages to smoke enough to get a glimmer of that long-lost original high.

Weiner tweeted images of himself (described as “lewd,” “suggestive,” and “inappropriate”) to college girls on Twitter.  There’s nothing illegal here, that we know of.  They were over 18.  He wasn’t stalking people.  The girls were often cyber sexting him back.  But the outrage machine is in full swing nonetheless.

In fact, the infamous boxer-briefs image plastered all over the news is quite amazing–for what it doesn’t reveal.  Is that an erection?  Well, I guess so.  The quasi artsy camera angle makes it hard to tell.  He’s certainly slanting to the left (womp womp).  Honestly, I don’t understand what the big deal is.  This photo is about as pornographic as Thor is violent.  It’s a suggestion of porn, made potent to us because the fact that he’s wearing underwear means that the photo doesn’t have to be censored.

In the U.S., television stations take out the blur tool at a moment’s notice.  This is patently different from Europe.  We don’t just blur out faces of criminals and bystanders on COPS.  We blur out the middle finger, making comedians look like fuzzy muppets.  My brother was telling me the mouth of basketball player Joakim Noah was blurred out when he said a homophobic slur during a game.  The word wasn’t just bleeped–his lips were blurred out, as if hate-speech, once said, could be airbrushed out like an embarrassing tattoo.  Sometimes blood and graphic wounds are blurred out on TV, but not nearly as often as nudity.  Ass-cracks of plumbers as well as girls on MTV wearing thong bikinis get the pixilation treatment.  When Lindsay Lohan reveals her “Britney” while getting out of a car in a short skirt, that gets blurred out to the point where I suspect she might have been wearing underwear after all, and the tabloid press is using censorship to imply sensational news.  Breasts of course, are the prime candidate, since vaginas and penises are scarce on American TV.  Janet Jackson’s bare breast at the Superbowl was responsible for more complaints to the FCC than any other TV show or instance that year. As a result, the Superbowl halftime show is now broadcast with a several seconds delay.  Imagine the chaos that would have been unleashed  if Justin Timberlake had helped Jackson bare her other breast!

Breasts–they are just so offensive!  But not the whole breast, and not the cleavage. Mostly just the nipple. Even when the breasts are not being sexualized in any way by the context of the show, they are “sanitized” for the sensitive viewers at home. I noticed that National Geographic and PBS documentaries with fleeting images of naked women or babies in developing nations are now blurring those “nature” shows out as well.  I’ve seen the breasts of breast-feeding moms– ON A SHOW ABOUT PREGNANCY AND CHILD CARE– blurred out.  This is on Bravo, network that brings you The Real Houswives of Ad Nauseum, which by painting women as catty self-absorbed botox-addicted bitches who trash talk their friends, does a much greater disservice to American women as a whole than Janet Jackson’s boob-ring ever could.

So when a photo of Anthony Weiner’s wiener–in his underwear– is all over CNN, FoxNews, NBC, etc, and it is not even blurred out, I get suspicious and frankly, appalled.  This picture is miraculous, really.  A miracle given to television news media because it doesn’t need to be censored, yet we all know what it’s suggesting.  I think that if this photo HAD needed censoring, like the Brett Favre penis-watch sext, this story would not be quite so pungent.  This is a PG-13 photo– and, really, it was a juvenile, PG-13 act.  It’s “sexually explicit language” and “adult situations” but no actual nudity or nooky.

Weiner showed incredibly poor judgment in his denial of sending the tweets.  Someone who uses social media as much as he does must understand by now that nothing ever truly gets deleted–or is truly private–on the Internet, especially when you’re famous.  His cover-up made the scandal worse.  But, again, he has committed no crimes here.  He hasn’t had physical sex with these girls, as far as we know.  And even if he had, the only person this should concern is his wife.  Same for the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, same for the John Edwards scandal (although Edwards’ betrayal of his wife during her cancer battle is particularly despicable), and for the Schwarzenegger scandal (as long as he has been supporting his child, per the requirements of the law).   As long as no laws are broken, moral failings in the domain of private relationships do not automatically mean that a politician is unethical or ineffective in his professional life.

Americans need to be more European about this whole thing.  That means less resources being used to dig up sex scandals instead of covering important issues like the economy and the Middle East.  It also means: stop blurring out women’s bodies on TV, especially if a boner in a pair of boxers is now okay to show on the news.

Walt Whitman knew 150 years ago that American prudishness enabled over-sexualization and disrespect of the natural form.  We all need to listen to Walt Whitman when he says:  Be not ashamed of your body.

I wish politicians–particularly Democrats who are often condemned by conservatives for being libertine as much as liberal– would just “keep it in their pants.”  Oh wait.  Anthony Weiner did keep it in his pants (at least in the image in question).

This is why I’m never joining Twitter.

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