Sunday, December 11, 2011

Winter in Whitestone: A Holiday Shout

      A world of little kid secrets it was when by chance, waking from sleep, asphalt streets & factory-blackened ground lay carpeted knee-deep in skyfall’s coconut marshmallow avalanche. As we ambled along powder-puffed, tall-treed Powells Cove Boulevard, blizzards blotted out the decaying seafront’s gangrenous plank & broken tugboat, & when hailstorms finally ceased, a serenity of snow & ice had descended upon our unheralded outpost of New York Harbor.
      Car crash, rock salt, slush slide & blood drip met up ahead on the Bronx-Whitestone, a buckling suspension bridge spanning the East River under which the white stones that gave old Clintonville its new name sat buried & longshoremen’s tall tongues still tell the tale on sleet-hoary evenings in run-down gin mills like the Crew’s Rest, but in the era of Ike, JFK & LBJ, it seemed that every cobbled clump of corner store cluster included a watering hole packed with beefy barkeeps cursing like troopers, dressed in apron & tie among crumbling corduroy, quarter beer & pipe smoke, serving toothless stumble bums rum-soaked who shuffled key notes heaven-sent inside greatcoats, while across the street a pre-Gortex world of cotton long johns shrunk at ankle & wrist held unshaven gypsy men cowering wind-whipped under dimly lit Bohack’s selling freshly timbered evergreens silent like Buddha holding a flower.

      A pothole-frozen, vapor trail, crystalline cold hike it was along unpaved Cryders Lane a winding mile home from St. Luke’s Grammar School in ill-fitting ear muffs & woolen mittens out of mothballs, steel-buckled rubber galoshes over Thom McAnn shoes to guard against wet gusts that blew Little Bay frosty over abandoned piers. There were chores to do or our knuckled heads would be met by a world of woe from mothers’ leather strap or the backhands of hard-headed, jack-hammering dads. So we ran along the service road, dug out the snowed-in, shoveled sidewalks & rested in the heart of the old village where stood our tiny library next to Crawley’s, the hole in the wall our dads crawled home from on Friday nights, & beyond that stood the Odd Fellows Hall where the Pocahontas Society met. Not a single Matinocock who once hunted these hills was alive to join, but my immigrant grandmas were members & decided their kids should meet.
      Raised on catastrophe, wary of strangers, certain how perilous was winter & the other three seasons yet voyaging across an ocean for a freer way of life with a more level playing field, these grandmas, Cassie & Frieda, re-shaped superstition & tradition to make in America a place for a savior for whom, like them and their loved ones, there was no room at the inn. Such were their stories of salt-of-the-earth glory spoken to us in their Old Country accents, & like the man called Christ, their bones knew the catharsis that comes from overwhelming crisis. In spite of plastic Santas tied to antennae, Chanukah candles orange in windows, flood-lit mangers & magi, the grandmas understood that winter holds an unfathomable dread, a mystery that the older religions of our newer immigrants reflect---Egyptian, Persian, Chinese, East Indian---that round & round the eons spinning, we arise from & return to a Vast Unknowable Nothing, that change is our identity & death merely the removal of a tight shoe, ideas to shake the terror of our non-existence out of us that we might make fuller use of what redeems night’s darkest hour before the dawn of a new year entire.
      The ghosts of our grandmas are winking at us between falling flakes of snow to remind us the crying, hungry baby emerging between shit & piss, as Augustine called our human birth, is not just Yeshuwa Mithra but the world herself, that whole worlds are being born tonight in every Bethlehem, a word that only means “mill town” in Aramaic. At their graves of white stone our grandmas’ absence tells us to make ready a place for the guest who arrives without invitation, like a raven in the snow, at our window with a broken wing.
--Kirpal Gordon (from Eros in Sanskrit: Lyrics & Meditations; for more go to


1 comment:

  1. Amen to this Kirpal... their bones knew the catharsis that comes from overwhelming crisis.

    Crisis is a crapshoot. Nonetheless your optimism is duly noted and appreciated.

    Norm Ball