I have countless things to do, bills to pay, photos to edit, and things to catch up on after moving 2,000 miles three weeks ago, but all I have thought of since a particular subway ride last week is the rat scuttling snakily between the detritus beneath the train tracks under Nostrand and the A-train.
Each bottle, each wrapper, that pencil, the chapstick, that red lighter, belonged to someone – a real person! – and I can’t get over it.
Those bottles touched lips, those wrappers were untwisted and ripped with fingers, that pencil wrote numbers, that chapstick sat in pockets, that lighter lit cigarettes, all belonging to and used by people, people, people . . .
And who are they? – and where are they now? . . .
I never understood the idea of the city as an urban jungle, but now I appreciate it more. Somehow – as full and busy, trodden and populated as it is – it still feels like a wilderness unknown – vines of electric wires crisscrossing streets uncharted; people fierce, vibrant, and untamed; cultures unfamiliar, set among scenes unnavigable. Rivers of bodies, cars, and bikes rush between high, carved edifices, great pillars of angles and rock eroded from ages of hours and the friction cycle of rain, sun, and city grime. There is something about the sheer presence of humanity everywhere that paradoxically blocks it out – a ‘Where’s Waldo?’ effect that blends the trash and litter, the heights of buildings, the dancing crowds, the bustling shops, the exponential faces, into a landscape spectacle with everything to look at, everything to see, and nothing to focus your eyes on without straining them in the most tiring, exhilarating way.
But then, a flash or presence: people are flowers, each with their own hue and scent, and sometimes they flourish among the dripping buildings and refuse. They blossom cherry-red from cars in the middle of the street, giving directions in thick New York voices to bewildered, wilted dandelions, blown in with their Florida rental to the center of Marcy Avenue.
Downtown in Brooklyn, I saw a flower on the corner of Court and Atlantic. Lost in thought, she paused just long enough for me to register her wintery, rosy face. It was my friend Jen in a dark green coat that sprouted deep purple petals at the openings, her hands and neck wrapped and warm like buds. She was my first random New York run-in, a lilac smelling of coffee, a known posy among strangers’ faces full of windows and unfamiliar eyes.
Then, there was the woman who stood across from me on the subway this morning. She was another blossom rooted in earthen clothes with a serene face that looked as English as a garden and matched her quiet, British accent. Brown pants and a long, mottled coat solidy grew up her steady frame like ivy on a quaint, brick building. Her hat bloomed fuchsia like a great peony, imitating the hardy shrub she obviously was. I wanted to take her picture, but my courage failed me with all the other passengers growing like serious, angry weeds around our tiny plot of earth.
I am a plant, too – uprooted and branching out as I am – and today, I am wild, grounded and skirted in ochre, carrying herbs, smelling of roses. I’m very much a country flower – a country mouse among bigger, better, faster, stronger town rats and city cats that scurry under subways and around litter – but I think I love it.
The puppies and I have spinning tops for heads that whip towards every new scent, sound, and stirring. We walk! We stare! We try not to stare at crazy people on the street or subway!
“What’s that new piece of trash on the corner?” sniffs Boon, cocking his head. “Where did the old one go?” tumbles Annie, hound nose to the ground. “Who picked it up – a little paper flower – and what blew it away?” think I; and like the Coon that I am and the dogs they are, we all three blunder along, digging ourselves out of the asphalt newness, tripping over each other and the ever-present detritus and flowers until we bowl back through the lobby of 770 St. Mark’s, the sight and smell of its bright, acoustical ceiling growing more familiar every day.
We are overstimulated in the best possible way, we are growing, our petals close sleepily, and every night we hit the bed a bundle of buzzing paws and leaves and limbs.
Till tomorrow. Be well, my flowers.