New York City offers the most sophisticated of pleasures. You can dine
in the finest restaurants, receive the best service in your hotel, go
to museums or theater, hear opera and symphony orchestras. But you can
also throw on a pair of sneakers, leave your hotel
room and discover the world of Central Park.
The boundaries of time collapse when one enters
Central Park. Once upon a time is now, the good old days are today.
Newly seeded lawns are old, ancient trees are young. Time approaches,
giggling with the immediacy of roller-blades, then retreats, hiding
within the slowly shifting shadow of the Egyptian Obelisk. In an ever-changing,
but changeless realm, time is rhythm and pattern rather than the crude
ticking of an individual clock. The present exists like a thin veil
through which past memories and future plans are constantly being pulled.
Yesterday, today and tomorrow exist simultaneously, nothing more than
rhythms shifting in a circle.
One must walk in Central Park every day to
catch that brief, breathtaking moment, a hemi-demi-semi-quaver in time,
when winter turns to spring. The potential of renewed life occurs, showing
itself as a mist of green so fine that it appears as aura, rather than
object, around the trees.
Christopher Columbus and William Shakespeare
face each other at the head of the elm-lined mall that leads to Bethesda
Fountain, and all that separates them is a circular flower bed. They
are the oddest of odd couples, incongruous fragments of separate pasts,
thrown into perpetual confrontation with each other.
Columbus's tenacious feet are caught in the
act of moving forward, striding securely on terra firma, terra nova.
His eyes look outward; his chin is stubborn. Shakespeare, on the other
hand, has been caught pausing to think. He clutches a book to his chest,
a finger marking the page where he stopped reading others' words in
favor of dreaming his own. Incongruency is the meeting point between
Robert Burns and Walter Scott face each other
as one starts down the mall. They are dim lights in the literary pantheon,
another odd coupling, but they are adequately pensive, one looking upward
for inspiration, the other finding it within. Then, one comes to Fitz-Greene
Halleck. Though he has a book, and is positioned on Shakespeare's side,
he has more in common with Columbus for his posture is expectant and
ready for action. He is a little smug, this forgotten poet, Fitz-Greene
Halleck, but then who wouldn't be self-satisfied if enshrined in the
company of Shakespeare.
In summer the trees behind Shakespeare are
so dense that they hide the distant skyline. Shakespeare is at home
with this show of nature, but in the winter density is stripped bare,
and the city asserts its exclamatory presence through the naked branches.
Then icicles form on Shakespeare's ears, his eyebrows, the tip of his
nose. "'Tis in grain, sir, 'twill endure wind and weather,"
Shakespeare wrote in Twelfth Night. He was speaking of a woman's unadorned
physical beauty, but when one stares at the statue with the rambunctious
city outlined behind its reflective eyes, the interpretation of his
words assumes its own meaning: hold standards in grain, so wind and
weather will have no effect.
The face of Shakespeare, that knower of all
things human, is the face of genius, as much a freak as the elephant
man, but one who serves us well. We have a use for him, and so we worship
When I look at the legs of this genius/freak,
I see he is wearing tights that bag around his ankles. Perhaps baggy
tights are the secret component of genius. No wonder men have produced
more works of brilliance than women: men are more comfortable, not constrained
by undergarments. Fervid and grave, I vow to give up panty hose.
In summer we are thrive in the playfulness
of light, and the sounds of life. One hears the carousel before one
sees it. The hurdy-gurdy music pumps from its organ, songs by Stephen
Foster who was inspired to music by a dead old dog named Tray, a dead
old black man named Joe, and little Annie Laurie, who was trampled to
death by a runaway horse.
The horses in the discreet brick building
that houses the merry-go-round won't run over the children who clamor
to climb on their painted backs, but one must wonder if those children
have nightmares after riding one. The horses are painted with bright
bands that streak to form a rainbow when the carousel moves, but these
horses are ferocious. Built by immigrant Russians and Poles, these are
the savage steeds of Cossacks, straining at their bits with arched necks
and nostrils gasping for air. Above them, on the outer band of the carousel
are angels -sweet little cherubs with cotton-candy wings. One cotton-candy
cherub is shooting a hare with bow and arrow; another holds up a dead
chicken whose wings flop listlessly to the ground as if to dramatize
its condition. Even the clowns on the inside of the carousel are diabolical
looking, but the business of clowning is one that always peers into
the interstice where the normal and the grotesque meet. Do none of these
children know fear?
Facing the carousel is a sloped, sunny bank
where one can rest and watch the show put on by strolling parents with
carriages that shelter their new born infants, and by children rushing
to get the large horses on the outside ring of the carousel. Off to
the side of this warming spot, two small boys bend over a pile of pebbles.
Deep in conversation, they are as grave as scientists with a portentous
discovery. Pebbles are important business.
One year ago I paused on this bank. One year
before that, I paused on this bank. The same small boys squatted over
important pebbles last year, and the year before that. The same children
rushed to get a large outside horse on the carousel, and the same parents
smiled and strolled, pushing the same carriages that sheltered the same
infants. Perhaps time hasn't moved at all, and I am sitting in the me
of one year ago, of two years ago, for this is the pattern of life displayed
before me, and not the specific details of a single, unique history.
If such thing as history can exist here, it is circular, not linear.
Children and carriages, strollers and smilers, we move in this green
space as foam moves above, but within the body of a wave. We belong;
we inhere; we are part of this unity. Individuality is nonexistent;
we are but aspects of one life, bits of glass in a kaleidoscope of shifting
patterns. Time is a measure known only to human beings.
Who can I claim to be when I am sitting alone
on a rock, my legs extended in front of me, my feet flopped to the side?
Through whose perspective can I see myself on this island of stone?
To whom do I show myself?
Who here knows my name?
I have no name in this park. The I of me
collapses as soon as I think this thought. I stare at shoes -my shoes-
on a pair of feet, and they project at a rather odd angle, thank you
kindly, for those feet are sweaty and tired. My feet. Sinew, muscle,
the shell of me, encompassing me. According to science my brain is wired
to be me and only me, but when I look at those feet I am not my brain.
I am beyond thought.
Who am I? I AM a pair of tired feet.
Identity is the game we play with each other
and for each other. I find you and you find me because we put on the
same emblematic identity. We affirm each other's existence by recognizing
our sameness. I am this and you are this; all's right with the world.
But badges and markers are useless in the Park, for everything in the
park is immanence- the trees, the grasses, the becoming of a path whose
destination is unsure.
I hear the sound of automobiles from the
unseen street, their motors resonating like the vibrations of a tuning
fork. I lean into the sound, am absorbed by it, suspended above myself.
I collapse further into the inchoate, but I am not afraid. As I slip
away, I expand into the possibilities of my own being. The less I exist,
the more I exist. By negating myself, I become me more strongly and
I lean back to look at the sky, listening
to the voices of the park: a dried branch objecting to the weight of
a squirrel, a roller-blader falling in a crash, a sun-bather wiping
sweat, a page being turned by a reader in a shady nook, an organ mourning
Old Dog Tray, a hint of voices talking. I hear a speech from Hamlet,
rock music in a jogger's ear phones, an operatic chorus in the band
shell, applause from seasons of crowds on the great lawn, voices of
many eras swelling as one.
At the very edge of myself, I am tossed upward
past this imagined world into the open. Rocking back and forth in time,
I expand over the park; my own being encompasses everything here; I
am trees and hills and rocks and grass and water and child and adult.
I am, I am I am, I am.
I am alive in Central Park, I am alive in
the liquid heart of an opal, endless with light.