Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Open Letter

One of what I hope will be a series, in homage to my favorite defunct website.

Dear Rilke,

The city is prodigious with smell: vomited Cosmopolitans, rotting heads of lettuce, yoga mats saturated with sweat, bums as pungent as overripe papaya. In summer, New York is a medieval city, the air fat. The back door to every restaurant reeks like a slaughterhouse, every inhale filled with exhaust, stale popcorn, pollen, the drippings from air conditioners. Puddles breed new odors; I stepped in one and smelled the petrol and urine long before I heard the damp thwack of my sandal hitting the sole of my foot. I found relief at an opened fire plug.

People cannot walk quickly through this stench; they trudge like wet cats, the wealthy no better protected than the poor. Some try to mask themselves with perfumes, adding to the onorous cacophony. If the wind blows, one might find respite near the river, an instant of mint or jasmine or strawberry tucked within the sewage and the tugboats. Or in the trees of Central Park, the cruisers and the tourists are treated to a hint of mud and reeds.

How strange then, yesterday, to find a woman staring at a statue of an Italian patriot. Not a Rodin, not the kind of statue that might demand a new kind of being, just a casting of patriotic heaviness. At first I thought she was pilgrim, but she was exhausted. The oversized Italian cast a smell-shadow, a narrow avenue of neutral bronze. I laughed at that, and also at the makeshift bicycles rigged together for anybody who wanted a ride in the hopes of outpedaling the odor.

The heat wakes people up at dawn. They fix ice coffees and congregate on the sidewalks, waiting for the store to open. For my part, my scratchy caffeine throat makes me feel like a prophet with no audience, and I don't have a beach to shout on, and I don't believe in angels, nor do I care if they hear me. Nothing to do but write. You always insisted the dead were no more dead than the living -- why not write letters? My grandfather scribbled his epistles on saved junk mail -- it's all I have of him, the marked up ephemera -- so however dead you or he may be, why not write.