A Perfect Mess: Daily Dose of Poetry and Art

A Perfect Mess: Daily Dose of Poetry and Art

Gustave Caillebotte Paris Street Rainy Day
Gustave Caillebotte Paris Street Rainy Day

A Perfect Mess

By Mary Karr

For David Freedman

I read somewhere
that if   pedestrians didn’t break traffic laws to cross
Times Square whenever and by whatever means possible,

the whole city
would stop, it would stop.
Cars would back up to Rhode Island,
an epic gridlock not even a cat
could thread through. It’s not law but the sprawl
of our separate wills that keeps us all flowing. Today I loved
the unprecedented gall
of the piano movers, shoving a roped-up baby grand
up Ninth Avenue before a thunderstorm.
They were a grim and hefty pair, cynical
as any day laborers. They knew what was coming,
the instrument white lacquered, the sky bulging black
as a bad water balloon and in one pinprick instant
it burst. A downpour like a fire hose.
For a few heartbeats, the whole city stalled,
paused, a heart thump, then it all went staccato.
And it was my pleasure to witness a not
insignificant miracle: in one instant every black
umbrella in Hell’s Kitchen opened on cue, everyone
still moving. It was a scene from an unwritten opera,
the sails of some vast armada.
And four old ladies interrupted their own slow progress
to accompany the piano movers.
each holding what might have once been
lace parasols over the grunting men. I passed next
the crowd of pastel ballerinas huddled
under the corner awning,
in line for an open call — stork-limbed, ankles
zigzagged with ribbon, a few passing a lit cigarette
around. The city feeds on beauty, starves
for it, breeds it. Coming home after midnight,
to my deserted block with its famously high
subway-rat count, I heard a tenor exhale pure
longing down the brick canyons, the steaming moon
opened its mouth to drink from on high …

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  • Love these! I recently saw the original of this painting at the Chicago Art Institute exhibition Impressionism, fashion and modernity. It was a fascinating look at how art and fashion inform each other. This painting was highlighted as an example of the new order of modern young men and women. They are neither poor workers nor rich people in individually tailored clothes. Rather they are wearing the newly available and affordable off the rack clothing. They look hopeful and independent and interested in the world.
    What a fun poem! I have experienced the ‘miracle’ too when in an instant an ordinary sunny day on a street becomes extraordinary in tumultuous rain and simultaneously there are umbrellas as far as the eye can see..I also love the connection with a street in Paris a hundred years ago where a similar thing happened…

    • I love the Art Institute. Hoping to go back someday. Interesting insights into the milieu of the painting. I was torn between this one and a Renoir street scene with umbrellas.

      Yeah, I thought I’d look for New York street scenes, but I kept drifting back to Paris….