May 29, 2010

Libation to a Waterfront

Myk Henry and Marisa Sullivan, circa 1990, photo by Jessica Nissen. Originally published in TDR (The Drama Review 37 no. 3) 
The Cat's Head, Constructing Utopia in Brooklyn and Dublin, by Melanie Hahn, TDR, Fall 1993. (PDF download 2MB)

Myk and Rube were talking with the fire chief, and talking easy with him, and the first thing that came to my mind was … That makes three Irishmen, maybe we’re in luck. It was still early in the evening, but five hundred people had already gathered in the lot on the north side of the warehouse, waiting to get into the great charred hulk that ran from Kent Avenue right down to the waterfront.

A pyramid of beer kegs had been stacked inside the warehouse, a stage erected, and a gigantic polystyrene worm was billowing along the ceiling. All manner of unearthliness had been deployed throughout the cavernous space, and a small army of young people was busy at work all over the space. And then the fire department had arrived to shut it all down. Who knows what Myk and Rube said to that fire chief on that warm spring night in 1990 to get him kindly to turn a blind eye and be on his way. But on their ways they went. Some say a local bar keeper took care of the platoon that night.

For you see, there was to be a moon howling that night, a calling down of Hecate, a goat-stomp to the Goddess of Fertility. And the Irish are sensible people in this regard. The firemen started to return later in the night, in mufti this time, to get a closer look at all these strangely beautiful women.

In any case, the firemen did stall the opening for a few hours, during which time the few hundred early arrivers in the lot to the north of the warehouse became impatient to be let into the warehouse. Brooklyn was the stigmata of malhepitude in those days, and you just didn’t make a voyage like that from the East Village all the way out to “Avenue E” (Bedford Avenue) to stand in a trash heap on the waterfront. Our names would be dirt if we didn’t bring some game to the situation, and fast.

I ran back to my storefront on Bedford Avenue and North Fifth Street (where the “Subway” sandwich shop is now) and grabbed the “light guitar” — the wooden crutch with the six light bulbs of various colors screwed into the neck where your tuning keys would be, and the buttons on the bridge to blink them, and a big dimmer bulb at the base that was your wa-wa lever. I ran back to the warehouse and plugged this contraption into the generator.

Then I stood out on the corroded landing dock before 500 pissed-off East Village assholes and I played that guitar. Someone put “Smoke on the Water” over the PA, and I played that guitar, casting colors all about in the night. It was a smash hit. It was the shit. A reporter from the Village Voice happened to be in the crowd and I got a sweet little write-up a few weeks later.

As I played the light guitar, it felt like a dream. And as it happens in dreams sometimes, if you are in the midst of some commotion, and you turn your head briefly to look away into the distance, always, in a dream, as you know, there is someone, or something, standing there, away from the commotion.

I was playing to a crowd in the loading area, and I looked away to my left toward the river. The reeds grew tall from the wetlands that had reclaimed the waterfront in those days before the whole place was paved over. And there standing in the reeds, all in a row, were seven maidens all dressed in the whitest, fluffiest gowns of goose feather, shining bright and lovely in the night they were. Only later I learned that these were Marisa’s Peaches. At the time I felt upstaged and a bit intimidated by these rarefied females who signaled something more strange and interesting than my dada agit-prop. It was the moment the shadows started to turn and the scene to unfold, and upon the unearthly derelict waterfront inscrutable creatures began to converge.

From that moment it occurred to me, the night was unfolding like a dream, behaving like a dream. The uncanny obtained, in the realization that the event was aligned with the sequence and the symbolism of dreams. There was no “program,” no “lineup,” but rather a calculated weirdness. Thus did the night never quite touch the ground.

May 15, 2010


You, gargantuan prow of insatiation
Slammed into the rectilinear sky,
On what dawn did your hollow fury
Turn to the inverted world.

What thou, behemoth! Plying maw,
The pinking rictus of a thug’s dusk
That teethed upon the Erie Canal
And whistled down the rails to war.

Long years came shank of beast,
Bolt of cloth and mustard seed
To thy clarion of tons and wheels.
And then came pay dirt you had never seen:

Th'ethereal phosphor Hubris
Pitched on the jut of your bow,
Burning the oil at ungodly hour,
Beatitude’s illumined cube.

Then maenads all dressed in white
Tore at the flesh of your fruit,
All in a row in the river’s reeds,
And slowly goes the night.

Rapture of thy keening toil,
Cant of the rooftop’s leaning sky,
Sweep down shaft to peeling depth,
The very echo of your belly sweats.

Bold city under siege, spare of line
That braced the mind and steeled the heart
To polygons of shifting art.
Yours is the song of the earth.

What heathen glow unearthly cast,
What Midas touch on river’s breeze,
What obscure torque of your concretion
Could cause such things to pass.

Thee, candescent juggernaut,
Infeudated brawn of faith,
By one confounded calculation
Transfigured in occulting light.

Once you were the wings of Gotham
And the pinion of her spine,
We anoint thee now a motherfucker,
And here is the fury this time.

Ethan Pettit, May 2010