New York's widening gyre
surely some revelation is at hand
My first sighting of a New York cockroach, dying on its back in the hallway of the midtown walkup where I am staying, came on the same day that I met a Russian-speaking parrot. The city is uglier than I remember—Frank Lloyd Wright once said there was no architecture in New York, an affectation perhaps, but nothing here is truly old, and so much feels replica. New York’s style is composite. It is, more than anything, a city of noises: sirens, horns, revs and roars, wood-chippers, trundling trucks, the clatter of cutlery and coffee, the morning spray-down of street corners with long hoses. The city of full of deep and distant sounds: the immense white noise of heavy traffic. There cannot have been a moment of silence here for a century or more.
As I approached the Guggenheim from the park—which looks sadly drab and needs cleaning—a hawk, perhaps a red-tail, was waiting on the roof. It was the only thing that matched the grandness of Wright’s vision. He would have thrown a loop about the food trucks, with their blue and yellow umbrellas ruining the sight of his building. The Guggenheim was inspired by the motion of a wave, the prints of Hokusai, but the hawk’s circling flight is perhaps more apt for Wright’s widening gyre, his symbol of infinity, apposite to his vision of Nature, but also for this city.
I went up and down and around like a taxi, from twelfth to a-hundred-and-thirty-second street at the longest stretch, which was a long enough subway ride to read the New York Times’ account of Donald Trump turning his criminal chase into a celebrity show, mindless of their own enjoyment at having a box for the performance. That morning in the park, I walked past a man and his shopping-cart. He was making neat lines in a fat, carefully-lettered book, one of his few possessions. Trump’s defiant attitude stems from the same thing that makes that homeless man write and decorate his book—whatever lives we live, we are ultimately confined to our own imaginations.
Coming back from Harlem in the evening, the moon was bright and competing with the lights on the Chrysler building for New Yorkers’ attention. For which of those two men was that moon last night climbing upon an empty sky?
This morning Trump Tower has drawn no crowds, wherever the rallies of protest and support might be. The television in the diner playing the news was intermittent. The blazered man drinking Diet Coke for breakfast read the sports page. The clamorous city carries on. When Trump is spoken of, on either side, it is in the tone that surely some revelation is at hand. But the rough beast of anarchy is not slouching toward Bethlehem, it sits among us, unnoticed, the vast image of New York from cockroach to Russian-speaking parrot, from the erratic collation of life at Union Square to the widening gyre of the Guggenheim. While the moon was rising in Harlem, sparrows sang in the scaffolding, overwhelming all other noise. Near the park, they had quarrelled and brawled.
And so the spiral turns.
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