I keep thinking I need to write it all down while I'm still here. Everything. Every last inch of curb and gutter stench. Every single person that passes me on the street.
And so I write this moment: the arrival of the storm, when the winds pick up and carry off a table full of sunhats. The winds usher in the rain, and the crowds huddle under the American Bible Museum, the great marble overhang of the Church of Latterday Saints, unaware of symbolism, only wanting to stay dry.
Every time the bus door opens it smells of rain. Heavy gushing summer rain. As if the whole earth is breathing once again.
I write them all down: Women carrying soggy newpapers over their heads. A man in a beard and a Chinese farmer’s hat who’s not at all Chinese. A woman pricking her finger opening an umbrella, sucking at the wound.
And then as the bus turns onto 72nd street past Verdi Square: I write sun.
Scribbling away furiously on the back of a post office receipt. While I'm still here.
We're outside the walls of a castle at the southern tip of Manhattan, waiting for Patti Smith to perform. We can't see a thing, but we're hoping we'll be able to hear her. There are people climbing trees, people peering through bars built to hold out the British, walls that can't hold in Patti Smith. Like a flash of light she cracks open "Because the Night" and the man next to me reading a design catalogue begins to tap his feet and nod his head. A man on the other side says UGH I could DIE right now I'm so happy and collapses into his partner's lap. A happy crescent of city folk reclining on park benches are we, serenaded by Patti Smith, the sun setting at our backs.
She asks if those on the outside can hear her. We cheer.
Outside of society, they're waitin' for me.
Outside of society, that's where I want to be.
Outside the fortress wall there are women with gray hair dancing in gypsy shirts, Spanish tourists, forty-something model-types in rocker boots. A high school kid walking around sullenly with a composition book clutched to her chest (are you an observer too?), a giant man in a three-piece suit with money on his wrist pumping one fist in the air, women who dance with their arms around each other, eyes closed. The dancers and singers and fist-pumpers, closing our eyes to hear like attendees at a revival.
A full moon rises over the financial district. We're nodding and pumping our fists to "Land" then with magical transition, suddenly, to "G-L-O-R-I-A..." I tilt my head up and watch planes fly overhead. She goes away, then comes back and plays "Perfect Day" and the outsiders start to sway. The fireflies peek out from the bushes, the planes overhead turn on their lights.
It's night now and the night belongs to us.
The voice beyond the wall sends us away with a benediction: "Life is hard. Life will throw a lot of shit at you." The voice cracks and then swells. "But it's the best thing we've got."
I'm writing it all down, while I'm still on this side of that wall. Because it's the best thing we've got.
© Zan McQuade. All rights reserved.