Phoebe L. Cor­bett

The London Magazine - - NEWS - Phoebe L. Cor­bett

A Brook­lyn Blue Moon

Rum­bling over Brook­lyn Bridge on the M train, Mia spoke of the poet we were vis­it­ing for the night. Delilah was pub­lish­ing her new book, and I had been struck with visions of an il­lus­tri­ous po­etry recital, lost in the sounds of cham­pagne flutes and in­tim­i­dat­ing con­ver­sa­tions.

‘She’s like a tree elf,’ my older sis­ter an­nounced, guz­zling Fire­ball whisky straight from the bot­tle. ‘Or a nymph.’ De­spite liv­ing in Amer­ica for five years, Mia’s English ac­cent pierced through the throng of late night pas­sen­gers. Eyes rolled. I took a sip and stared at the full moon span­gled over the Hud­son River, blur­ring its edges as my throat stung. The sub­way car was bright, a pale yel­low stark in my mem­ory, and in con­trast, New York City’s sky­line looked sub­dued. Beau­ti­ful, still, I thought some­where through my sleepy haze.

I’d been here a mere two swel­ter­ing days, and though this city had stunned me with its huge parks and wild streets and sky­scrapers and views, I had yet to un­earth the cul­ture I craved. The part of Har­lem I imag­ined Mia to live in, with his­tory and com­mu­nity, had been swal­lowed up and bought out by Columbia Univer­sity. In an­other word: gen­tri­fied. So when she in­vited me to a dis­tant friend’s po­etry read­ing in Bush­wick, Brook­lyn, de­spite a sickly blend of heat­stroke and jet­lag, as a poet I was cu­ri­ous. A lit­er­ary night could be cul­ture I was look­ing for.

Next to us, a man with pep­pered stub­ble swung open the car­riage door. Au­gust heat and the roar of the train tracks flew in. As my eyes drew to his faded Yan­kees shirt curl­ing at his waist, I watched with mild dis­gust as he un­buck­led his belt, bal­anc­ing one lum­ber­jack boot on each car­riage. Mia smirked at my frown as I wit­nessed him piss­ing over the Hud­son, bask­ing un­der the open sky.

‘It hap­pens all the time here,’ she dis­missed. ‘He’s just en­joy­ing the view.’

Slid­ing back into the night’s waxy heat at Cen­tral Av­enue sta­tion, we emerged from a flight of steps into a va­cant in­ter­sec­tion. A nearby gen­er­a­tor hummed. Traf­fic lights hung un­der the bridge like bananas from a tree: slices of yel­low flick­er­ing in the shade with green and am­ber and red. A strange quiet­ness had met us in Bush­wick. We hur­ried our foot­steps to­wards an open­ing of light from a Taco Bell in front. Run­ning my hands through my hair, I felt sticky and damp. Sweat clung to my neck as we gin­gerly scut­tled past rows of pas­tel painted houses, clamped shut with metal barred doors. Across from us, dis­tant bass notes whirred from a dive bar as we wound up to Delilah’s block.

It was a lofty, cop­per-red build­ing, at­tached with a concrete arch­way. We moved past the bins and up the steps. From the shad­ows a burly rat coursed across Mia’s shoes. She shrieked. With nowhere to turn, the rat de­sisted, ob­struct­ing the door with scared black eyes and a body slick with grease. We froze too, star­ing at him as he did us, wait­ing for move­ment. I yelped and swore, ready to run. In a woozy leap, my sis­ter pushed into the door of the build­ing and held it open for me. I hes­i­tantly hopped, and then we were in, catch­ing sight of the rat dart­ing out of the gate from the ruckus.

At the very top of the stair­well, a small, elfin girl with a gust of sil­ver hair greeted us at the apart­ment door. An end­less lad­der rested be­side her.

‘I’m so glad you’re here,’ she squealed, squeezing Mia.

‘I’m Delilah,’ she said, turn­ing to me. ‘It’s a blue moon tonight, you know? What good luck…’ She trailed off. I tried to ask about it with­out seem­ing naïve.

‘Oh dar­ling, spells will be cast tonight, for sure. Es­bats are a spe­cial time – per­fect for po­etry.’ Es­bats? A later Google search taught me these were coven meet­ings on the nights of full moons, in­spir­ing heal­ing and psy­chic train­ing. Blue moons – a sec­ond full moon in the same cal­en­dar month – held added power. I tried to pic­ture hold­ing a po­etry es­bat with my own friends, but couldn’t.

‘She’s a witch. A… pa­gan,’ Mia whis­pered be­hind me. ‘For­got to say.’

‘Can’t you feel the en­ergy in the room?’ Delilah asked, grab­bing my clammy hand as we peered into her cramped liv­ing room. Peo­ple with pal­lid faces and moist brows swathed over ta­bles and couches adorned with Moroc­can throws. Wooden pa­gan masks, pro­trud­ing with horns and beaks, were wound along the walls, and patchouli oil burned from the floor. Weed floated around us, too, as I yawned and rubbed my eyes in sync. A girl with jagged peach hair twirled in a cir­cle alone, mov­ing to the tinny elec­tro-jazz mu­sic play­ing from the MacBook on the ta­ble. I de­lib­er­ated whether jazz and Ap­ple prod­ucts still classed this event un­der ‘wic­can,’ or ‘hip­ster.’ The girl’s body moved as if she were a doll at­tached to threads con­trolled from above. I mur­mured en­thu­si­as­ti­cally to Delilah, gulp­ing Fire­ball and wheez­ing from the cin­na­mon.

‘I feel the en­ergy.’ Such en­ergy. Ev­ery­one was com­pletely stoned.

I stood by the sink once Delilah wan­dered off. There were of­fer­ings of grapes and cherry to­ma­toes in bowls, and abysmal Amer­i­can-style hum­mus - too heavy on the tahini. I popped to­ma­toes into my mouth one by one to keep busy. A guy with a plaid jacket and patchy tufts of dark hair soon shuf­fled over to me, and I coolly struck up con­ver­sa­tion in wilted hope he was more alert than his stoned peers. Hugo Van Vorhansen turned out to be an aca­demic, poet and art ex­hibitor, and took great de­light in telling me of his new in­stal­la­tion in a down­town, aban­doned laun­dro­mat. Also prone to ceme­tery tours, he did read­ings there af­ter dusk. I stared at his mousy face as he stut­tered, fixed on a point be­tween his eye­brows, and silently praised my­self on nod­ding in all the right spa­ces, ig­nor­ing waves of nau­sea in my gut. From above us, a sub­way train drummed from the bridge, shak­ing the room and muf­fling our voices. I con­tin­ued nod­ding.

‘That’s great! So you’ll come?’

‘Hm?’ I gaped, star­tled at what I’d agreed to.

‘Green­wood… the ceme­tery… in my neigh­bour­hood? It’ll be su­per chill for your po­etry. I’d love to hear it.’ I hadn’t met many aca­demics that said

‘su­per chill,’ but this was Amer­ica. I agreed to him, flat­tered, though slightly scared.

Weeks later, Hugo timidly wrote me: ‘I had wanted to write you sooner, but I have been tied down with some things I was hop­ing would not take as long as they did, but now they are done.’

Be­hind Hugo, three men hooted hys­ter­i­cally, as their throaty drawls crashed into each other. The men looked about thirty, dull and pro­fes­sional, but held them­selves like rowdy seven­teen year olds. A small clear baggy fell to the floor be­tween them. One of the men, the shorter, scruffier one, folded over to reach for the bag, guf­faw­ing as he picked it up. He quickly in­spected it un­der the over­head lamp, seal­ing it shut. A white mat­ter shone. Coke? Speed? Crys­tals flashed un­der the light bulb, and then he shoved the baggy deep into his back pocket. Po­etry events I’d at­tended at home were wan­ing from my mem­ory. Crystal meth was an Amer­i­can de­vel­op­ment. I leaned to­wards my sis­ter.

‘Is this shit nor­mal for you? Meth?’ My eyes widened in alarm.

‘No. This is in­sane,’ she whis­pered, be­mused. I breathed out. ‘The crazy thing is most of these peo­ple have PhDs... Bloody cre­ative writ­ers,’ she quipped, ref­er­enc­ing my own de­gree sub­ject as I feigned con­tempt. My work was so far from Brook­lyn’s cre­ative mi­cro­cul­ture that I was floun­der­ing in. The idea that ev­ery­one around me was more suc­cess­ful and schol­arly, while seem­ing so out of touch, irked me. An es­cape was beck­on­ing. My stom­ach ached, and I longed for my mat­tress over the river in Har­lem. I’d stay for the po­etry, I con­vinced my­self, cradling the dis­ap­point­ment in my belly as I swayed to the mu­sic.

‘It’s time to make our way to the roof,’ Delilah cooed. She was so quiet I as­sumed I’d mis­heard her, un­til I saw the lad­der we’d passed ear­lier tower at the door­way. Hordes of draped guests slith­ered into a ball by the door, hud­dling un­der the hatch opened to the stars. In the flurry, I was pushed against peach-haired-danc­ing girl, now cu­ri­ously hold­ing a wine glass of

grapes and ice. She stared at me blankly. I tried to make a joke, but blank stares con­tin­ued. I asked her name, any­way. She started to splut­ter, strug­gling for an an­swer, as if the ques­tion was aw­ful for a first meet­ing.

‘I don’t have one.’

‘Any­thing you’d like me to call you?’ I faintly asked, re­gret­ting it. She looked around the room, and peered down at her glass, shrug­ging.

‘Call me Grapes.’

‘- May as well do!’ Mia cut in, call­ing me from the top of the lad­der, which lay un­at­tached to the hole in the ceil­ing. As I climbed it, whisky sailed through my blood­stream from the sud­den al­ti­tude. I peered down twelve feet to Grapes’s hand barely brush­ing the lad­der, and ac­cepted I might die with these peo­ple. Flushed with bak­ing mid­night heat, I stum­bled on the flat roof to its floor, fall­ing back into a space where I could lean.

‘Come on, Frag­ile,’ my sis­ter sighed, pulling me un­der her arm so I could rest. A girl wear­ing white silk gloves clam­bered to the edge of the build­ing. Her heels brushed the air from the void be­hind her as she pulled out crum­pled pa­per, gig­gling as her friends cheered with whoops and yells. I gazed in delir­ium at the Brook­lyn back­drop. Even from our height, in­dus­trial build­ings tow­ered over us like for­est trees. An old brew­ery loomed past a shabby ho­tel, never re­vived af­ter the Pro­hi­bi­tion era of the twen­ties, as its red brick walls and crum­bling chim­neys solemnly eroded. The full moon glossed over us, rest­ing as an opal in dusty clouds.

Bush­wick grew louder. Car ex­hausts growled from the streets be­low, fill­ing the air with smog. The dive bar buzzed. Trains passed ev­ery two min­utes, sub­merg­ing the po­ems as we met with gorm­less trav­ellers. We only heard frag­ments, but it didn’t seem to mat­ter. The poet spoke of the blue moon, and of cap­i­tal­ism, and gro­ceries, and crack-co­caine. In fact, lots about crack. By the fifth men­tion, I as­sumed she, and ev­ery­one around us, were bliss­fully lost that night in an ab­stract world o so­cially uncool class As. Yells kept spurt­ing from her friends, and she was shift­ing un­com­fort­ably. I peered be­hind to watch the cul­prits. The ear­lier howl­ing men were

dan­gling their legs through the roof hatch and swig­ging San Miguels, wear­ing Delilah’s horned pa­gan masks that curled out through the dark­ness. One bot­tle tipped over with a clunk.

Mia passed me a plead­ing mes­sage typed on her phone. She wanted an es­cape route, but I was too in­volved now. I made her wait un­til Delilah crept up to the roof-stage. Sip­ping from a golden chal­ice, she waved a broom through the air. She started to chant, her soft voice barely de­tectable, smoth­ered by trains and her own guest heck­lers.

‘Sweep out dark­ness, sweep out doom… Earth be hal­low, air be pure, fire burn bright… A sa­cred bridge this sight shall be…’ The in­so­lent heck­lers roared over her. The other guests, try­ing hard to succumb to Delilah’s trance in the moon­light, were an­noyed. Fu­ri­ous glances and shut ups res­onated from the roof-floor. The stuffy air was too tense for magic. As she read from her po­etry book, the recital be­came jerky and paused. She stopped of­ten to take gulps of breath.

‘Speak up, bro!’ the scruffier man called out. ‘Fuck off, Craig,’ Delilah spat, in be­tween a line about con­gealed sad­ness.

Mia was tug­ging on my shoul­der to leave, and we were re­ceiv­ing un­wel­come looks of our own now. My sick tired­ness brimmed too close to my mouth, so we crawled like street rats through the crowd of drugged hip­sters – past a spell­bound Hugo Van Vorhansen, and past Grapes. The hatch blocked, we brushed our knees through rat drop­pings, ooz­ing beer pools and spliff butts to the lad­der fixed to the build­ing’s edge. I felt mildly un­hinged. Af­ter a night meet­ing New York’s high­brow ec­centrics, I was not con­vinced Delilah’s place was the cul­tural core I’d hoped for. But, I thought, as I clung onto the side of a four-storey build­ing, en­vis­ag­ing my sweaty death ahead of me, this could have only hap­pened once in a blue moon in Brook­lyn.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.