The River

January 8, 2018:
I was searching my hard drive for the word, “Rodin.” The sculptor was significant to me in a number of ways. First, my family visited The Rodin Museum in Philadelphia when I was a kid, maybe eight or nine, and I had loved the statues, The Thinker especially. On what I now realize was my Grand Tour of Europe, in 1998, I visited the Musée Rodin, in Paris, and I loved the statues more. They were so real and alive and sexy, invincible in metal, creamy in stone. There were a few more in the Metropolitan Museum I loved to visit, The Hand of God, Eternal Spring, Eve–though I seem to remember that one being life-sized, in Paris. Maybe it was both.

I wasn’t even looking for something I’d written about Rodin, per se, but just to see if I had yet written an offhand sentence in a prologue to set up a longform piece, about writers who had fallings out with their subjects, as Rainier Maria Rilke did with Auguste Rodin. Instead, a 300-word rumination on the East River came up, written in April 2003 by a twenty-three-year-old version of myself, who apparently thought it very romantic to have a hangover. 

Having listened these last many months to Bruce Springsteen reading his autobiography, Born to Run, aloud, I am more certain than ever that nothing is wasted. I am also driven to connect to the innocence of my beginnings, when I did not really know what I was doing or what I was going to do or what I could do, or really even what a personal essay was, or the forms it could take. There was no Facebook, no brain-dump to pour the flood of musings and observations that aren’t quite formally publishable but still want to “connect and share.” There was not even this very blog, which was born in May of that year. But now, at the end of my writing day, on the way to resume tutoring operations not yet begun in the spring of 2003, I find these 300 words, and I expect to cringe at the clichés and affectations and imitations of other, better writers. But instead I think, “Not bad! Not bad at all! Not great, but not bad, baby writer. Good practice. Good job.”

The author at the river, same time as the writing.

April 9, 2003
The river is good for a hangover–it doesn’t try to soothe it, it just meets raw with raw.  You can lay down a headache there, and the river says, I too am polluted, I too am toxic, I too am still beautiful. Last time I went to the river I watched one rock, one small rock.  It was dusk and rush hour, high speed commuter ferries were sending ripples in all directions.  The ripples were washing over this rock, ruffling the seaweed that clung to it.  I smelled the spring thaw for the first time, the river was finally fishy again.  The colors of the sunset and the changing light were all there in the one, slick rock, shimmering.  There was even a little spray kicking up between the rocks, like an orgasm metaphor in a heavy-handed movie. Before the thaw, I had been going to the river in the bitter cold.  The cold so cold it was no longer a temperature but an experience.  If you resisted, shrank from it inside your coat, it was hell.  But if you gave yourself over to it, it was transformative.  My eyes teared and my mouth tasted sweet and my body felt clean.  The river was frozen around the rocks, only a few plastic bags and bits of garbage trapped in the ice. A little girl in striped tights climbed on a rock and jumped repeatedly into her father’s arms.  I climbed over the rocks and they shimmered everywhere with smashed glass. Three Hasidic men sat on a bench, talking.  A teenaged couple made out on another bench, sitting next to each other, their bodies still except for their desparate lips.  The boy had has arm around the girl, formally and lightly, and after a while he put his hand so tentatively on her leg, they looked like a tense, yogic version of Rodin’s Kiss. I have lived most of my life on this island where I now stood at the edge, at its many unbeautiful waterfronts.  I cross it almost every day, underground.  It’s dirty and it has no answers and I never ask for any.




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