On A Summer Day

Poetry

Sharing this beach with many humans

every single one thinking living playing sinking 

levitating under the sun

I am confronted by my ordinary existentialism 

by the surreal awareness of a solitary mind

humming to an idiosyncratic ringing 

as the waves wash over the pain

the triumphs 

stealing my sight my smell my sound

back to the sea


Photo Credit: Gessy Alvarez, Provincetown.

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One Brave Queen

Flash Fiction

He ran one pink hand over his coarse, red beard and tugged. The steam from shirtless men and glistening women created a fine mist around his twirling, rotund body and fogged up his black horn-rimmed glasses. A few feet away, I danced in place, closing my eyes and spinning once, twice. Joaquin, my dance partner, kissed a tall guy. I didn’t know what time it was or when I last felt this good and sweaty. Someone licked the side of my face, tried to pull me towards them, but I pulled away laughing. I felt hands caressing the curvy small of my back, hovering over my butt. I kept my eyes shut as I grooved to the bass beat. When I finally opened my eyes, Red Beard jumped up on the stage. He twirled and gyrated to a blood thrumming drum beat. Two women joined him. They danced behind him like back-up singers, bodies swaying in choir-like synchronicity, their meaningful focus on Red Beard and his graceful potbelly jiggling in harmony with the red and silver flashes of light, conjuring the spirits that kept everyone moving, laughing, and embracing in the dark, cavernous space. Slick bodies rubbing harder against me. Glowing faces turned up. I didn’t know where I was or who I had become. I pushed my way to the enormous unisex bathroom with its long corridor of mirrored walls, ten sinks on one side, tall gilded bodies leaning forward attempting to balance on 7-inch heels, applying lipstick, eyeliner, mascara, and one brave Queen gluing caterpillar eyelashes on, and a sweet, cherubic middle-aged man holding her other set of eyelashes in his hand. I pushed door after door until one gave. And as collapsed on the toilet, I pulled my phone out of my bra. The face of it lit up with an incoming call and my finger hovered over his name.


An earlier version of this flash titled “Therapy” was published in APT (Aug 2016).

Photo Credit: Jenny Holzer, Abuse of Power Comes As No Surprise from the series Truisms T-shirts,1980-worn by Lady Pink © 1983 Lisa Kahane, NYC.

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A Good Mother

Flash Fiction

A good mother shows no weakness.

When you left, a guiltless, cowering creature was born. Not one trace of my immigrant misery stained your new skin.

I heard you married a handyman and moved to Yonkers.

The pawnbroker gave me a Benjamin for the gold earrings I never gave you.

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The Whitney Museum, 1997

Ekphrastic Poem

for Jay Defeo

If you have formed a Circle go into it, go into it yourself and see how you would do.
– William Blake

In a rented studio on Fillmore Street
she worked on her obsession
colossal circles
like the ones she used to draw as a child
symmetrical radiating facets in white
hues of reds and browns
against a black background
paint piling
multi-dimensional transformation
a sculpture rising from a flat plane
she worked
in a white lab coat and
cotton gloves
chipping away the dried crusty oil paint
sipping brandy
smoking Gauloise cigarettes
watching a rock strata
emerge from the endless depth of 
her circle.


About “The Rose” from https://whitney.org/collection/works/10075:

“First exhibited in 1969, The Rose was taken to the San Francisco Art Institute, where it was covered with plaster for support and protection, and finally stored behind the wall of a conference room. Legend grew about the painting, but it remained sealed until 1995, when Whitney curator Lisa Phillips had it excavated and restored by a team of conservators, who created a backing strong enough to support the heavy paint.”

Photo Credit: Jay DeFeo working on The Rose, 1958–66 (known at that time as The White Rose), San Francisco, 1960–61.

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Drink Up

Flash Fiction

They drank green cocktails with cucumber slices, ate hotdogs on buttered buns, and listened to an a cappella version of “Lilac Wine” sung by a young man with pumpkin orange hair. 

“Drink up, sweets,” Ramona said. She punched her boyfriend’s shoulder.  His bald head glistened under the bar lights. 

I felt the knot on my forehead. Yesterday, she caught me with my back turned. I didn’t see the book coming at me.  

Tonight, she wanted her boyfriend drunk. “Sweets, do you want me?” 

Pumpkin boy was now singing “Tainted Love” with a fake cockney accent. He clapped two beats before singing the refrain and I jumped to his clap.

The barflies watched my small titties bounce.

Ramona didn’t scare me. She thought she did. She didn’t understand that I let her hit me. 

I chose to stay with her. I chose not to jump out a window and feel the pavement scratch my heels. 

Tonight, I’m her best friend. “Not my daughter,” she told me earlier as she plucked her eyebrows in front of the bathroom mirror. Eyelids caked with black eyeliner, she turned to me and said, “Blow on them.”

From a WIP vignette collection by Gessy Alvarez.

Featured Image: Frank Habicht’s fifth-floor rooftop in London’s SW5 district served as his “favorite open-air studio” and “was a melting place for exuberant parties on mild summer nights,” he writes in his book.

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Guardian Angel

[flash fiction]

We fell asleep on the couch, alcohol on our breaths. Mambo and cha-cha-cha beats in our knees. Damn two-dollar high-heels left welts on our feet, but we danced all night with different brilliantine men: gold teeth, mustaches, pinky rings that looked too big for their pinkies. Manhattan Center was always packed on a Saturday night. Giant fans kept dancers cool, but never disturbed the shellacked beehives and too-good-to-be-true jewels.

Police arrests at a Drag Ball, NYC

Outside was 34th street with its neon Irish bars, burlap covered bums, and you and me, running away from the cigarette fog. Out those black and gold Manhattan Center doors, leaving behind cheap cologne, hairspray, watery beer, the bottle of Dewar’s that got us a table in the middle of the action, and that damn greaser who pulled on your hair when you said no, shoved his thumb against your forehead to force you to sit back down. And me, in my pink dress, too young to speak up, to make a spectacle, to declare my seventeen-year-old presence. Me, lifting the glass bottle over my head.

Getty images.

“You shouldn’t have done that,” you said as we walked through a crowd of tourists. I was your guardian angel. The one groomed to stop you from making bad decisions. What I shouldn’t have done was dance with the tall, white guy. I shouldn’t have placed my hand on his chest, felt his heat.

We walked up to the glitzy squalor of Times Square and stared at the boys with plucked eyebrows and hair-nets. We watched them bum off cigarettes from distinguished movie-going husbands. One boy leaned in and blew us a kiss. You kissed a ruby polished finger and returned the love. I licked whiskey and blood from my hand; the greaser’s blood not mine. I pulled a dollar from my bra and handed it to the hotdog vendor. “Two please and one Coke.”

You reached out, squeezed one of my tissue-stuffed boobs, and chortled into your paper plate of steamy onions slapped on top of a mustard smothered hotdog. “Just checking out my competition,” you said before taking a bite of your hot dog.


From a WIP short vignette collection by Gessy Alvarez.

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Tidewrack

[Found Poem]

“The Real Estate Show”
a vacant city-owned building

Images courtesy of: https://collaborativeprojects.wordpress.com/the-real-estate-show-was-then-is-now/

Occupied

35 artists installation “open” for one day: January 1, 1980
padlocked by the police – January 2

Images courtesy of: https://collaborativeprojects.wordpress.com/the-real-estate-show-was-then-is-now/

city workers invaded the space
carted off the work

June 1980 – “The Times Square Show”
an abandoned multistory massage parlor – 44th Street & 7th Ave

Copyright: © 1980 LISA KAHANE, NYC All Rights Reserved

Funky…a happening

a non-stop party 
paintings, film, video, live music performances

the Bronx/downtown
theoretical/impulsive
the vandals/the decorators

“New York/New Wave” – February 1981
P.S. 1 – Long Island City

119 artists – curated by Diego Cortez

maximalist 
art hung from floor to ceiling

a coalition of punks, No Wave musicians, painters,
graffiti artists, poets, performers, radical-type forefathers

what’s left when the tide goes out
art based on life and not on art

Kathy Acker, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Henry Chalfant, 
Larry Clark, Jimmy de Sana, Bondi, Fab 5 Freddy, 
Futura 2000, Nan Goldin, Duncan Hannah, Roberto Juarez, 
Lady Pink, Marcus Leatherdale, Arto Lindsay, John Lurie, 
Lydia Lunch, Ann Magnuson, Lee Quiñones, Kiki Smith, 
Steven Sprouse, Harvey Wang…

The age of showmanship and shamanship

new wave of art ready to break
far-off presence – praying for psychic surf daily

art to reach the public
without mediation/practically dangerous



Source: “New York/New Wave” by O’Brien, Glenn. Artforum International; New York Vol. 41, Iss. 7,  (Mar 1, 2003): 108.

View photos of: 
”The Real Estate Show” exhibition at 123 Delancey St. here.
”The Times Square Show” exhibition here.
“New York/New Wave” exhibition at P.S. 1 here

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Last Kingdom in Astoria

Last Kingdom in Astoria A Novel Excerpt by Gessy Alvarez

July 17, 2006

Helena, you used to call me your King. Now your ashes are in an urn that sits in a niche at Calvary.

Mariss calls me the king like she feels nothing for her father like I’m a big joke to her. And at sixteen, she acts like I should be happy she’s around. She’s doing me a favor, and I tolerate this because I still have you watching over us, soothing my deepest insecurities. But Helena, how can you help me now?

This infernal July is plagued by heatwaves and thunderstorms. I prefer the storms because Mariss stays home and though I never question what she does in her room, at least I know she’s there cursing me through the walls. But the heat waves are intolerable, and she’s gone all day, sometimes all night. And tonight, there’s a blackout, and Mariss is not home.

I’m used to the late nights. I’m used to the overnighters. It’s become a pattern. Monday and Tuesday, she’s home by midnight. Wednesday and Thursday, she’s locked inside her room. Friday and Saturday, I disappear, and when I finally get home on a Sunday afternoon, her door is open. I don’t bother to look in or let her know I’m home. If she emerges for dinner, I’m happy. If I don’t see her until Monday morning, I avoid speaking to her, hoping my silence communicates disappointment and not fear. I steal glances, make sure she’s in one piece. Except for the occasional dark circles around her eyes and her matted hair, she usually is.

Tonight, I called her from my flip phone, voicemail. I don’t leave her a message; why waste my breath? She’ll come home eventually. There’s no power in the apartment, and I have two bars left on the flip phone. Our cordless phone is no longer plugged into the landline. 

Helena, do you remember the day we met? You were new to Queens, new to the languages spoken on every corner, the smells of spices you never knew existed. Like everyone else, you confused me for Puerto Rican. And when I shook my head, you guessed, Colombian? And less convincingly, Greek? Italian? Sometimes, someone with a good ear and a deeper understanding of how I carry my voice, my body around, would guess right and say Dominican. Embarrassed, I would quickly assert my Iberian heritage. My great grandfather was from the Canary Islands, I’d insist. And, in between eye rolls, I’d say, “He bought land in D.R. and married a local farmer’s daughter.”

My family was one of five families who incorporated a small town in the Northwest tip of the Dominican Republic. And these pioneering families intermarried, and an enclave of children with light brown hair and hazel eyes populated the town. These children stood in contrast to the laborers and their brown, black, and all the shades in between children.

My parents were 2nd or 3rd cousins, it was always unclear, and my father left my mother once they both immigrated to New York City.  I was raised by my grandmother and my mother.

But you don’t care about my past. It’s not as if I could remember the details from those lost toddler years, and it’s not like my mother, whose eyesight was failing by the time you met her and whose rheumatoid arthritis kept her from leaving her apartment. It’s not like she would have told you the whole story.

My grandmother was long gone by the time we got together. And my father, he may still be alive, but I haven’t seen or heard from him in over twenty years. There’s no one left who could invent a cryptic family saga.

You never ask for this story, never seem to desire this knowledge. You trust me completely. You call me your King, and Astoria is our kingdom, away from your Jersey shore home, and your domineering Russian father, and the boyfriend you thought would marry you, but who left you out there with an ocean that always felt too cold for you to enjoy.

Helena, tonight, I’m grateful you’re nearby. The darkness is a great comfort. But there’s never any silence in Queens. Car alarms and sirens populate the night. Mariss is out there. Our only child, our essence. I know you sense the truth, Helena. That I’m relieved that Mariss is gone.

With some guilt, I feel we no longer need Mariss. We were a family together. But now that she’s gone is there room for me to be the person you believed I was? We can go back and relive our love affair before Mariss interrupted it. I know you’re scared, because we made her together, and without her, what are we to each other?

Mariss will come back eventually. She always does. She will come back and live as my idea of who she is. She’ll want to make me happy. Just as you want to make me happy. Freedom is meaningless without experiencing the pleasure of pleasing someone you love. And Mariss loves me. She is my daughter, and no matter how long she’s gone, that will never be untrue. We are bound to each other forever.


About the novel:

Last Kingdom in Astoria begins during a blackout on a hot July day in 2006. Sixteen-year-old Mariss never comes home. Her father, “the King,” still speaks with his dead wife, Helena. Though relieved that his daughter is gone, he feels obligated to search for his daughter through the hot, powerless streets of Astoria, Queens.

Photo by Harry Gillen on Unsplash

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Implicit Contract

[Found Poem]

No one can “control” art I do what I can to respect
—People exist in specific Time and space

July 16, 1979
Man is throwing
Molotov cocktail
The Sandinistas at
one of the last
Somoza national guard garrison

The image
—‘Molotov Man” was Pablo Arauz

In this digital age
Images are dislocated
Decontextualized

History works against context

Pablo Arauz
—converted to the emblem
Of an abstract riot

Protest the diminishment of
His act of defiance.



Words borrowed from:

Source: Garnett, Joy; Meiselas, Susan (2007). On the Rights of the Molotov Man: Appropriation and the art of context (PDF). Harper’s magazine.

Photo credit: Se llama Pablo Aráuz y vive en Somoto, ubicada a apenas 50 kilómetros de la frontera con Honduras. Fuente: BBC Mundo. https://rpp.pe/virales/mas-redes/la-historia-detras-de-la-mitica-imagen-de-el-hombre-molotov-noticia-1083714

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Mozart’s Sketches

[Found Poem]

portraits of Mozart
a keyboard instrument
none showing him
playing

a leaf of music paper
the concerto idea
on the empty top staff
red notation
Mozart’s second thoughts.

Sketch of the beginning of the Finale of K. 450.

later hands appear
top margin
“By Mozart and in his hand.”

left margin
“NB / Beginning of an
8-voice fugue.”

upper right margin
an unknown hand
the piano concerto finale.

Mozart’s pitches and
rhythms
unchanged but
an overlay—

an incomplete set of instructions
for realizing
two hundred year old music—

instructions for
tempo,
fingering,
phrasing,
articulation,
dynamics,
pedaling,
representing the
taste,
technique,
opinions of
performer,
pedagogue,
scholar.

her late husband’s musical
manuscripts: sketches or
drafts of unrealized works
kept
for possible completion
by others
sketches or drafts of
completed works

discarded


Words borrowed from:

“Mozart and the keyboard culture of his time”: https://rmc.library.cornell.edu/mozart/credits.htm

Photo credit: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Sketch of the beginning of the Finale of K. 450. Neue Mozart Ausgabe, vol. X/30/3, ed. Ulrich Konrad.