Thursday, March 21, 2019

March in Sugar Hill

Between St. Patrick's and Joseph's Days, 2019

It is a perfect March evening in Sugar Hill. I walk out of the Foodtown, turn to look south down St. Nicholas Avenue, and there’s a little pink patch of rosy cloud setting over the turrets of City College.

My bags packed with discount dyed-green bagels and Irish soda bread (no longer desired by the denizens of New York after sunsets of the 17th, although, the pastor of St. Patrick’s Cathedral has assured us, today is liturgically St. Patrick’s Day), I miss the traffic light that rules the squished-together intersection of St. Nicholas Avenue and Place.  So, I turn north and walk down the small flagstoned park that decorates the median between the avenues.

I walk up towards the BP Gas Station and the Bailey Mansion—my singular favorite place in New York City, which reminds me of roaming through Manhattan on a Saturday night with nothing else to do, the romance of adventure, and being young. To think I live here: to think I have pitched my tent on my favorite unknown corner of romance that is now my daily stop on the way back from the subway and the grocery store.

James Bailey (of the Barnum and Bailey circus fame) built his mansion, thinking that this sweet peak overlooking the Harlem River would become another Upper West Side mansioned-neighborhood. He was subsequently grossly disappointed when apartment construction began on St. Nicholas Avenue. So he left. It became a funeral home. It stopped being a funeral home. No one lives there now.

What good is a place to live if you cannot enjoy it?

At the intersection of 150 and St. Nicholas Place and Avenue, the city widens out into the atmosphere of the Bronx. I do not feel en-gridded like further downtown. Sugar Hill is quiet and open, a little bit freer and more spacious tonight, away from the humming buzz of Broadway and the 1 train.

I can tell that by the river—the Hudson, on the other side—the sun is going to set clear and grapefruit tonight. I could rush down to the river to see it, or not. Knowing that I can go down tomorrow, or the next clear March night is a tent peg hammering me into the ground.

My God, this city—who I often accuse of abuse (and she is guilty of it)—is beautiful.

When you desperately need to write something for someone, it is that moment of need you feel yourself curiously drying up. You begin to parch as you reach deep into your heart to find the words that will adequately express the love that wells up and solidifies into the concrete form of the beloved. How do I have enough inside of me to tell them that I love them?

This seems to be one origin of the poetic instinct: this is why the poet reaches out into the world: there is enough in this creation, saturated and dripping with love to excess, that can express what I cannot summon up in my heart. I contain multitudes, writes Whitman.

Maybe, I think, reading Song of Myself by the river in another sunset. Perhaps only when the self is expanded to include nights like this, cracked open to make space for a cosmos. Whitman's, it seems to me, was.

I take a bite of the soda bread. Sweet pastries are meant to be eaten with coffee—the bitterness keeps the sugar from being saccharine. I have no coffee, but the lumpy, soft bread spiked with raisins pairs perfectly with the crisp autumn-spring atmosphere of March and the cold that hems in with the deeper blue that creeps over the quickly darkening sky. Between bites of bread, I drink it in deeply.

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