“CENTRAL PARK”

Leaving the City   jpeg

“Leaving the City,” painting by John Devaney

The Reading Public

“The Reading Public,” painting by John Devaney

 

 

 

by Lawrence Mitchell

 

I

Prelude

 

The path that pulls me through the park,

stained macadam, sometimes stone,

mortar bound to climb down stairs,

winding past a grass clean field,

a clique of trees,

a man who plays the violin,

he stands there every day

vainly hoping that

his instrument’s sarcophagus

will green like leaves,

bends around a massive crop,

Manhattan schist,

the bedrock of my life,

conquering kids crest its peak

arms stretched down and uptown,

straddling the world.

 

I have spent my life

in wanders such as these,

the paths seem always to lead

somewhere,

and I suppose they do,

if you know where somewhere is.

Resigned, I rest upon a bench

until the spruce green slats

annoy me up,

but I must stretch,

for pausing only ossifies

a body used as mine.

Before too long, I’m off again,

let landscape lead me where it may.

 

A straight and wider boulevard,

grand paving stones and sentry elms,

a saber arch of leaves,

announce its majesty.

I am pulled, striding solemnly,

as such monuments demand,

and then it stops.

Spread far beneath,

parade ground breaks at deep green lake,

my eyes are pulled to rise.

This is where it ends.

This is where it starts.

 

 

II

Bethesda Terrace

 

Angel of the waters,

cascading robes embrace

the house of mercy,

compassion, lovingkind.

Your far-drawn fountains pour

healing music on a sultry afternoon.

You are the respite and the pause,

your plaza a fermata

holding still the winding tunes,

the point and counterpoint

of twisting paths,

the resting place of weary melody,

pulled together by your flat green lake,

arches harmonizing hold the highest note

and shade the brooding bass of catacombs,

the great sonorous chord before the music breaks

and scatters once again through paths of counterpoint

and coloratura warbling the far-flung fields.

Filled again with pure vibration,

I sing along my way.

 

  

III

Remember the Maine

Remember the Maine.

Do you?

I’m sitting here below her gilded scallop chariot,

borne by waves that wash ashore

the water graves of those who served,

much as time has washed

the names inscribed upon the

sandy plinth between the seas,

lofted high above the park,

fading into anonym,

two decades more, they’re gone.

Sentry of the circle,

staring clear across,

the circle’s eponym,

his back displayed.

You’d think that as himself a sailor

he could at least bother

to turn his face,

to grace defiant victory that crests the prow,

perhaps he just resents the slender pedestal

on which he stands,

and so prefers to cast his eyes away from grander stone.

Forgive the bombast for those lonely men

were just tools to start a war,

to build careers and dreams deferred.

 

 

IV

Different Strokes

 

The painters array on a swatch of green

beneath sporadic trees

before a massive stone,

more white than gray,

that breaches the surface with its back.

 

Elderly they are, white hats, white hair,

white pads,

some on laps, and

one or two lurch out on makeshift easels.

 

And they brush.

They dip and they brush,

struggling to capture the elusive uncatchable.

One with bold dramatic strokes,

another, almost pensive,

one precision-like to thrust

the sounding stone upon the page.

 

Their art will never lure

the rock to paper,

but who cares?

The end is in the brush

that makes tangible what goes behind the eyes.

 

  

V

A Great Day in Harlem

Flat beneath the rocky heights,

cathedral towers pulling high

the ground that holds

the sanctified of God and man,

baking in the summer sun,

the land gives way to water,

just as flat and dusty as the grass,

turtles collect on a broken log,

their nostrils peer from the brown of the pond.

 

I stroll along that uncertain shore

and see a boy, beautiful, glistening,

whose wonder world this nature is.

He lifts his pole,

a crappie dangling from the line,

glowing in the warmth of day.

 

His pride as vibrant

as the shimmer of the heat that

rises from the path,

he smiles at me,

salutes me with his fish,

and humble, I defer.

 

 

 

VI

Sunday Morning

A wailing erhu struggles just to pierce the air,

an improbable regatta, waves laconic,

ripples lazy up the lake unfolding, rolling,

brushed against the coaming framed so perfectly,

reverberates a beat or two and spreads again,

the pastel notes of children follow trippingly.

 

Shaded in an alcove lined with trees, I settle,

the benches form my sanctuary’s inner wall,

absorbing deep the ancient sound and childrens’ calls,

they are the only tunes except the snoring man,

Sunday Times spread out, innocently sonorous

harmonies arise as the Chinese music fans.

 

Another sits a bit apart, a bit aloof,

slumping wearily and peering past his folio,

expression sort of dour for one so bronzed as he,

the tunes he pipes are rather of a darker piece,

entrancing, not enchanting like the wonderland,

vibrations merging motivate grim fantasies.

 

And so I daydream pondering this fairy tale,

stupor swaddled in a blanket damp with summer,

listening for melodies that cannot reach me,

reaching for refrains buried deep in echoes past,

my soporific sanctity cannot hold on,

and struggling for escape I have to sing my song.

 

I open wide my heart to let the music flow,

but oily air compresses breath before it billows,

chokes it down beneath the surface of my spirit,

strangles still the beauty of my barbaric yawp,

surrendering I slowly sprawl my ecstasy,

asphyxiating in the lushness of the day.

 

 

VII

Benches (The Names)

Swirling around like a jazz riff,

paths and perimeters sweeping,

along hidden byway and bold cliff,

sounds joyous, pensive, or weeping.

 

But while their melody never stops,

it often lulls behind daydreams,

blankets of snow or the leaves that drop,

or faintly buzzing moonbeams.

 

And yet each strikes out a silver tone,

like saxophone or like trumpet,

reminding me that it’s just a loan,

each dying note must confront it.

 

Many are named who have loved this place,

but most remain unacknowledged,

sounds once degraded don’t leave a trace,

sounds never heard can’t pay homage.

 

Beautiful music that’s passed is past,

new rhythms won’t come ‘till tomorrow,

the sounds that embrace me won’t hold fast,

music, like time, can be callow.

 

Each bench that I pass shall stay nameless,

and yet records lives beyond count,

though grateful I am, for the noblesse,

a moment depletes each account,

 

And so I shall sing for the moment,

without much regard to the tune,

denying the need for atonement,

since harmony ends much too soon.

 

 

 

Lawrence Mitchell was born in Brooklyn, went to Columbia Law School, and practiced law on Wall Street before leaving for an academic career almost 30 years ago. He returned in April and plans never to leave again.

 

John Devaney is an artist who resides in Manhattan. He is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Regional Fellowship in Painting, Research and Teaching Fellowships at Harvard’s Carpenter Center, and artist residencies at Yaddo and MacDowell Artist Colonies. His work has been exhibited at many museums, including the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art, MIT List Visual Art Center, and the Lyman Allan Art Museum, the Newport Art Museum, the Brockton Triennial, the Danforth Museum of Art,Harvard University, a ten-year retrospective at Miami-Dade College, University of California at Irvine, and the Springfield Museum of Art. Major mural commissions include the 2400 square foot painting for the University of Connecticut’s Natatorium and the Water Fountain of Danehy Park, Cambridge.