Wednesday, February 29, 2012

"My Suffolk Downs" by Melissa Shook

Congratulations to Melissa Shook on the publication of My Suffolk Downs (, about which George Kalogeris writes:

"Melissa Shook's gift combines a documentary-photographer's eye and and ear perfectly pitched for vernacular. Her subject is the backside workers of the Suffolk Downs racetrack: the all too often broken down, troubled, bleak yet enduring lives of the hot-walkers, stall-muckers, horse-shoers, grooms and trainers . . . . Her book is a thrilling integration of common idiom, stoic clarity, and generous energy."

To this I would add: these are masterful photos with wonderful grays; Shook presents the clear, unsentimental voices of workers for whom the track is a mixed fate, voices gritty and gallant.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Up north this year, remembering the snowy winter of 2011, someone protected his trees. These are huge trees. They surround the property, each one shrouded in burlap. After sights like this, it's been freeing to bum around South Beach and see a man playing the violin in Flamingo Park.

And delightful to find this modest statue of Simon Bolivar, the liberator of South America. He looks thoughtful among the baobab trees in Collins Park. It's been a day for strolling through parks.

It must be especially lucky to touch wood when it's the wood of the baobab tree.

The post office on 13th Street is embellished with the statue of a fish.

It is, I suppose, unfair to compare north and south, but up north we tend to tighten up, hunch our shoulders against the cold, and prepare for the worst. Yet there is such a thing as overprotection. I wonder how much it cost to wrap those large trees.

Monday, February 20, 2012


In South Beach, at the Epicure, I had another lesson about snap judgements. A fastidious woman caught my eye, and I watched her closely. Well groomed, dressed in shades of brown with touches of gold, she first rubbed her hands with sanitizing gel, and wiped the table, on which she spread a clean napkin. How will she be able to eat anything? I wondered. I need not have wondered. Her daughter arrived with a bag from the Epicure deli, and pulled out two huge, thick, rare roast beef sandwiches. The fastidious woman dug in, bit hard, and devoured the dressing-moistened meat, the bread, the tomatoes. All! She and her daughter ate silently, avidly, yet neatly. Not a crumb on the sanitized table. I'm a bit of a crank about not eating red meat--and this meat was red--but please allow me: what could be more unclean than dead flesh? You see how creepy I can get. Yet I'm glad the woman could eat. I had visions of her wiping and wiping, never able to get things clean enough.

I've been away from blogging too long. Many things have kept me away: months of physical therapy, a lingering bout of illness, a departure for South Beach, and writing what I think are risky poems. Right now I'm listening to Callas sing: Casta Diva, che inargenti/ queste sacre antiche piante . . . (Pure Goddess, who silvers/ these sacred ancient plants.) No voice like hers! Callas the Goddess. How did she get that sound out while standing so still?

How are you? What are you listening to. Tell me, wont' you?