On a bench in Central Park…

I’m sitting in Central Park on a late weekday morning a few days after returning from eleven days in Scotland. The day is clear and sunny, unlike Scotland where I’d gotten used to the transcendence of mist, drizzle, and rain. The brightness seems surreal and a bit obscene. I watch people amble along, speaking foreign languages riding bikes, wheeling bored children, struggling to jog up the hill in front of me, walking indentured dogs. Men in bucket trucks manicure trees. Horses pull carriages grudgingly, drivers relating historical half-truths to passengers. Rickshaw drivers do the same. A woman in a wheelchair is rolled past me. She looks down at the paving below her as if she might perceive a lifting of her vehicle, a rise into the air and flight. Nannies gossip while their babies in strollers give me The Eye, a look that says, “You know how this goes.” Or, Don’t tell them we know what they’re up to.” They blink, then turn away and resume their blank stares and dribbling.
I’m sitting on a bench not far from the John Lennon memorial, or as my kids once called him, “Sean’s dad.” This is because, although they didn’t know Sean well, he lived nearby and was their age. They were very young and identified with the sorrow of a boy losing his father more than the impact of such a loss on the world.
Sean’s dad’s memorial is a manhole sized mosaic asking us to “Imagine.” I try to exercise this directive in a positive way but often it slips into a dark crack that extends deep below sanity. This day, however, I languish in the peacefulness of a warm fall morning and the lingering spell of a magical country (Scotland).
I lived on the west side of the park for twenty years, my kids were raised here. As I walked through the park today from the opposite side, there was a strange smell, antiseptic, unnatural, as if the cleaning lady had just buzzed through. It wasn’t the smell of flower, tree, or grass, nor was it the clear aroma of mist or rain that I’d gotten used to in Scotland; it was something artificial. What could it be? A sign of change, of wiping the past clean—the past weeks? Years?
Here, from a bench at the park’s seventy-second street entrance, I study knots of visitors, taking photos listening to guides. I wonder what photo I would take if I was a tourist here? Since I’m a long time resident and on my way from one appointment to another, I take a photo of my shadow (because it doesn’t show my age and my hair looks better in silhouette). I’m sorry visitors, but this is my city, my park—well, technically it’s not MY park. My current neighborhood park is Marcus Garvey, less travelers (except Sunday when they come for the churches), darker complications, and an overload of derelict squirrels.
Back on the West Side, they’ve changed the courtyard of the building we used to live in. They allow people to take pictures in front—which they didn’t for a long time. Some people believe the building is haunted. Many times we drive by at night and (most) of the windows are dark and ominous. Does Sean’s dad haunt these neighborhood streets? This section of the park?
When I look up at my old window today, will the memory of that life have been purged? Purified? Or will I see my ghostly self? How will that phantom image effect the appearance of my hair?


There’s a song that’s been stuck in my head for a while. It’s a song about betrayal, sung by a dead man (and sometimes Willie Nelson). It’s not a song about a cheating lover; it’s a song about the betrayal of a friend. It tells the tale of a blatant, in-your-face sell-out, neither clever nor sneaky. Worse than an outright fight, more heartbreaking than angry insults, it’s a betrayal that destroys lives.
The song is set in a brightly-colored tropical country, a country of peasants with mind-your-own sorrows attitudes. There’s crime and virtue in the song and, of course, disappointment. There is heat and dust.
The one betrayed dies and becomes legend. The betrayer lives on in obscurity and regret.
The first time I was betrayed I was a fourth-grader. I never spoke to the offender again. I was angry and hurt, but it wasn’t hard to move on. I knew I could do without a friend like that.
Adult betrayals are not always so simple. Sometimes necessity overrides treachery. Sometimes affection gets in the way especially if the betrayer betrays themselves as well. Forgiveness is in order, though it may not be easy to forget.
Sometimes the betrayal overrides any chance of forgiveness. What are we to do when we’re being betrayed at an unparalleled level of treachery by people in power? Confrontation does no good. Criticism has no effect. The devil has no shame.
Perhaps this epic double-cross can’t be sung…or perhaps it just hasn’t been sung yet. Perhaps there is someone out there who can sing the truth of it. To catch on, it will need a strong voice and a loud guitar. It will need an earthy base, a soulful drummer, and a honky tonk keyboard player so as not to frighten the innocent. It will need words like “dust” and “destiny.” It will need courage, dedication and sleepless nights. It might need horses.
There are some people voicing solemn refrains but often their voices fall flat, are discordant or masked by shrill duplicity. But time and determination have a way of airing treachery and sounding out revelation. Resonance is eminent.
Then for us to move on, cells with strong bars will be needed.

Happy New Year, Iris Davis–whoever you are


My American grandmother’s journal is tiny (3” X 2”), her writing small, mostly household accounts and a record of her work days. I have three of these. One is from the year I was born but there is no mention of my birth. For a woman who had six children and, by this time, nine or ten grandchildren, I suppose birth was a routine event.
It’s been repaired with ancient tape and filled with tiny writing chronicling much of one year in a life that lasted 103 years. There is, however, scrawled across the page of March 25-30th,
“Dad had stroke
age 43—
died age 56, 1935”
The dates and ages don’t match but the numbers, originally written in pencil, are reinforced with pen. I take “dad” to be her husband as she was born in 1888 and I doubt her own father would have lived this long. 1888 was undoubtedly a lucky year for the Chinese because of the three 8’s. Alas, Gram was not Chinese and she was not lucky. Her ancestors came from cold northern European countries and she had a father so strict that she married at 18 to get out of the house. Women like her (poor, uneducated and guileless) had little recourse in those days. She raised six children on a tenant farm without modern conveniences, and baked bread to supplement their income. Her husband died when her three youngest children were still home and my mother, oldest of the three, had to quit school to help support the family.
On the page before (March 24-27), she wrote,
“Went to work Friday and resigned. drew my last pay. What a grand and glorious feeling—“
I believe this job was doing woman’s hair as she and my mother worked in a “beauty parlor” after her husband died and they had to leave the farm.
She didn’t stay retired, however. I remember her working until I was nearly a teenager. I thought it odd that she was a “companion to an old woman” as she herself was an old woman.
There’s a great deal of writing in the first part of the journal, work days recorded, men coming home from war (my father, neighbors, her youngest son), money loaned (mostly to Francis who is consistent in paying her back). There’s not much after March until the very end where she enters some addresses including “US Navy hospital, ward 14 in Portsmouth, VA.” Women are listed as Mrs…except for an Iris Davis (?).
Some of the days are only checked off (as in, got through it, on to the next).
I look for something revealing, shocking, inspiring. I find, “letter from Asa.” “7 dollars on food.” “Mrs. Worheim EM-9499.”
It’s my hope that we all find something revealing, shocking, and inspiring in 2019, and that we check off days only because they are the peaceful quiet ones that we savor for ourselves.