As a tribute to the centennial of the ABC Condominiums, an esteemed poet and resident, Mary Jo Bang, penned the following:
A is for A, B is for Building’s,
C is for Curtained, D is for Destiny
Hexagonal history marked in the marred foyer floor,
A shifting sea-surge of feet trespassing
On the over-and-done-with of the others
Who came before. The door opens. Someone new
Enters the picture. And then that one moves on
And out into the mutable world. From the outside,
Looking in, each window is an eye: Look, Darling,
It’s a diorama — and the people, they walk
And they talk! Cold winter streams in from the forest
Across the boulevard. Fandango of cars. It’s hard,
This gate keep, this watch heap, this building
Building its own bildungsroman — a novel
Of formation now taking the form of a composite
Of lives: A Mister K in 1A meets Miss B of 4C
On the stairs. How do you do? A satin-feeling felt hat tips,
A head tilts. A pageant of puppets in time changing costumes
Keeps up — the floor-length gives way to midi and mini,
A morning coat to the much-mourned passing of customs.
But still, there is please and a thank you. For what?
For what else? The roof over us. The floor under us. For a house
Full of strangers from which is knit, for a minute, a loose fabric
like family. What does a century mean but a multitude
Of moments forming a seamless skein.
Unfurled, the threads net a network
Of paint and paste papered walls, windows and worn
Rugs with imprints of spindled table legs lending the texture
A pattern on pattern. Summer comes again
And again, a hectic heating of stone, hot white
On the surface. Sullen air, sulky nights. Don’t forget,
Someone says and someone forgets
That the wrought iron elevator is rising to get them.
It descends. A face in the polished brass disappears
Through the open door. Summer ends at its end.
The boulevard flowers fade, the tethered trees
That edge the forest green turn and fall
Arrives. Not once but one hundred times. That’s history,
My dear, and it is a method of interrogation.
A certain curtain that cuts off the past and opens at last
To let in a little light. The sheer strangeness of interrogating
A room: Whatever did you hold before you held me?
Sometimes the walls hum and one hears
The thoroughly urban: the siren’s
Complicated signature of vicissitudes, that reliable
Indicator of one type of activity. Think of the decades
That went by when time was busy ticking.
Think of the changing nature
Of closets, the shoes on the floor, the newspapers
Lining the shelves. What? Yes, I’m coming.
The maid scurries off after a rattail
Comb from her lady’s dresser, mahogany veneer
With brass plate pulls. She does her lady’s hair.
Do we dare say, Those were the days? We would
Have to add, For whom? A chain link breaks.
Someone blinks. The lapdog becomes a laptop.
A Great Dane becomes a grain of salt between
Floorboards, missed by the mop year after year.
A hatpin is a lost rivet walled off by a renovation.
Stasis is also quiescence but neither lasts for long.
A sound disturbs the sooted night, hail rattles
The curved glass, ice cubes fall to the floor of a tumbler.
What can you say about today? Sunny with chance
Of cloud cover, stars obscured by brighter light.
There is deterioration, yes, but something else as well.
A wellspring of newness, of restoration.
Look out the window; here, everyone has some:
The trees are their leaves and then, presto,
It’s spring and that’s lovely. A rain
Of roots gains a foothold. Blossoms say look and promise
To be for a better instant. An orchid strangeness,
As in rare. As in beauty. Against the quotidian
Foot on the carpet, the frame on the wall.
The name on the mailbox that keeps a life straight.
What do you hate? Nothing. Or maybe
That wall in the hall with its crack that lets in the past.
We can fix it. We can. And we will
It to be easy. But it isn’t always. Something worth doing,
Mother said, is worth doing well. The chorus of the invisible
Pipes is quieted, the lights on the outside
Are lit. It’s a race with time and a packet of plenty.
A president’s huge head stares out from the twenty.
Goodnight Ladies, Goodnight. And also to the men,
And the movers who are coming and going yet again.
Hey nonny no. They wave as they go. Goodnight
To the pets and the pantries. Goodnight
To the windows through which we watch
The world unfolding its automotive moments
Along with a sooty drawing of an auto-de-fé.
Let’s leave that display. A song
From Peggy Lee is drifting through the keyhole:
Is That All There Is? No doubt
You wished for more. For that, you must go out
The door. Pack your purse or your pocket,
Leave your key with a man named Lamar.
Don’t go too far. Come back when you’re finished.
Click the lock and climb into your bed.
Let your head rest on the down of a lay-down,
The pillow that’s called part-peace-and-part-sorrow.
In the cupboard is the not yet
Cup of tomorrow. The dim stars shine a hush light
On the darkness of night, and the alphabet building sleeps.
by Mary Jo Bang, June 29, 2005