Sunday, August 28, 2011

Irene Passes Through + Poem: Samuel Menashe

The fiercesome Hurricane Irene has now moved through New York and New Jersey, but not without a tremendous amount of damage From its first touchdown on North Carolina's Outer Banks, on through its departure onto Canada, it has left an estimated 23 people dead; vast areas, from neighborhoods to train lines, under water; an estimated $7 billion worth of damage in the its wake; and millions of people without electricity.  Thankfully, however, the worst predictions for New York City and New Jersey did not occur. Some of the first comments I saw online this morning expressed peevishness that the storm wasn't as bad as predicted, but I for one am sighing with relief. While I could always do without the media's steady fomenting of panic and frenzy, I don't fault the local governors' and mayors' evacuation orders or their tone of seriousness.  As commonplace as it may sound, better that we're safer than experience another Hurricane Katrina and its horrific aftermath.

Up close, the storm was among the more awful ones that I've witnessed, but I still rate last winter's Snowpocalypse as worse. It began with all the trees and bushes soughing, before they thrashed about. Then came bursts of showers that intensified and would not stop.  Irene's winds and rain battered the outer walls, windows and roof for hours, at certain points so loudly and with such force that I thought it was stripping the bricks and paint off and, as the Snowpocalypse did, opening the sashes to drive its mess inside.  We had not fully locked the front door so it punched it open and drenched the alcove.  It flung some of the garden's plants and poles around, and left small pools in a few spots, both outside and in the basement. They were manageable, though, with a wet vac. This afternoon I drove through a number of neighborhoods in or near downtown Jersey City where some flooding did occur, so I am especially thankful we're on higher ground and that we spent a prince's ransom replacing the cracked old clay piping that runs under the house, which sent most of the water right out to the sewers, which had just been cleared in preparation for the onslaught.

One point of concern the neighbors and we avoided in advance was the falling of the huge old sycamore tree, well over 100 years old, that once stood out front. It had begun to die a few years ago after a persistent gas leak, and after seasons of repeatedly pestering the gas company and the city, the Forestry Department felled it in late this past spring, chipping what remained of the trunk and roots right after I returned in June. Every day I miss this tree, especially the shade it provided, and despite its propensity to shed its bark at all times of the year, its immense bowers that promised several weeks of fall raking, and its magical ability to draw people of all ages to stand beneath and act as if no one else could see them, even though they were visible from every point on the block; but I am glad that it was not around to be uprooted, like the trees pictured below, and tossed onto our neighbors' or our front porches.

I snapped the first few photos below during the storm, so only raindrops and darkness are visible, but the subsequent photos are from a mini-tour of some nearby areas. I could not get into Liberty State Park because the police had blocked all the entrances to its piers and docks off, but I captured what I could. One fascinating thing to me was to see how different the sky appeared looking north, where the storm clouds were hovering, versus south, where the sun and blue were peeking through.  By this evening the gray had returned, bringing autumn temperatures. We could some more of that heavy July sun right now, to dry things out, before the fall fully settles in.
The rain coming down, during the hurricane (Irene)
The street, during the hurricane
The backyard, during the hurricane 
The backyard, during the hurricane 
Street lights out, Pacific Ave., Jersey City 
Street lights out and a worker shoveling near a sewer grate in Jersey City's Greenville section 
Flooded train tracks, Jersey City 
Some of the flooded train tracks near Liberty State Park and Liberty National Golf Course
Post-Irene puddle 
A large post-hurricane puddle 
Fallen sycamore, post-Irene 
An uprooted tree near the local cemetery 
Fallen tree, after Irene
More downed boughs, near the cemetery
Post-Irene damage in the cemetery 
A partially toppled headstone (there were many) 
Liberty State Park in Irene's wake 
Looking out towards the Hudson, from Liberty State Park 
Dry dock, Liberty State Park (now the boats are sitting in water) 
The dry dock area, now full of water (just past the lawn), Liberty State Park (the rising Freedom Tower is the black building in the middle of the photo, Goldman Sachs's tower is the tallest one, to the left) 
Marina, Liberty State Park, Jersey City 
Another view of the dry marina, and the drenched grass 
Heavy winds, Liberty State Park 
The trees being blown about by the strong winds 
Lower Manhattan, from Jersey City 
Lower Manhattan from Exchange Place (there didn't appear to be any flooding or damage over here) 

Exchange Place, after Hurricane Irene 
Exchange Place and the Ferry terminal 
Looking south, from Liberty State Park 
Looking south, with the sunlight sky behind the clouds 
Looking north, from Liberty State Park 
North, in Irene's wake 
Near the turnpike, Jersey City and Manhattan in the distance 
Manhattan and Jersey City's downtown, from near the New Jersey Turnpike


On Twitter I noted the passing of poet Samuel Menashe (1925-2011), who left this world this past Monday. I had never heard of him until some while ago my friend Eric H., a poet and artist, suggested after hearing Menashe read that I check his work out.  Though he occasionally taught, he spent most of his life outside academe and thus outside its structures of recognition and acclamation; he was of the exact generation as many now canonical American poets, including Allen Ginsberg, Frank O'Hara, James Merrill, James Schuyler, Barbara Guest, John Ashbery, and Robert Creeley. Unlike all of them, Menashe also struggled to publish his work, in spite of its strengths, because it and he did not fit easily into any schools.  Belated attention--and funds--came his way at age 78 when the Poetry Foundation bestowed upon him its inaugural Neglected Master Award in 2004.  Menashe is a remarkably economical poet, creating tiny "machines" made of words of the sort that William Carlos Williams wrote about, condensing and thus tuning every word and mining musical possibilities, often while tackling weighty subjects, drawn from his life and from Biblical themes. It's a compression at odds with a great deal of prosy, talky English-language poetry, of all kinds, of the last 40 or so years, though not out of keeping with those contemporary poets working in condensed, free verse and non-fixed forms, like Kay Ryan, Rae Armantrout, Ed Roberson, and Lenard D. Moore, or, going further back, with the poets of traditions ranging from the Japanese haiku and haibun to the Turkish and Arabic epigrammarians to the Spanish masters working in concise forms, including the microgramas, that Jorge Carrera Andrade speaks of in his book of that name.  One effect of concision in Menashe's poems is to increase in the metaphysical power, sometimes shading into mysticism, that he seeks to cultivate through his subject matter and his deft use of ambiguity. In the poem below, I read not just a poem about the natural world, but the story of Moses as well, and, more generally, about knowledge, answers, the world's code, visible if one looks more deeply into all around us.  Reading Menashe doesn't require huge amounts of time, and offers swift rewards. But those quick reads will make you want to return. Give him a try when you can.

Reeds Rise from Water

rippling under my eyes
Bulrushes tuft the shore

At every instance I expect
what is hidden everywhere

Copyright © Samuel Menashe From THE NICHE NARROWS, by Samuel Menashe, Jersey City: Talisman House, from Archipelago, Vol. 5, No.

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