“Cities, like dreams, are made of desired and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspective deceitful, and everything conceals something else.” – Italo Calvino.
Below is a surreal lyric essay inspired by the Rubin Museum’s “The World is Sound” exhibit, and the walk home after. I’ve been thinking lately about how to capture cities–a city like New York is feels especially impossible to capture.
“What is the sound you hear when you die?”
“What is the sound of the universe being created?”
In one room, a monk chants you to your grave, sweetly.
Every moment passes into another moment like clouds rolling over the moon.
The moon through trailing branches is the moon over a bayou in Louisiana. “Look at the broken castle,” Z says pointing to a building under construction, and the moon is the moon over a castle in Transylvania.
City blocks stretch, each step a step into another time in the life of the city, the moon over a low white wall is the moon over Granada.
In the city, moments of terror are followed by moments of inexplicable beauty, followed by laughter, then terror again, people casting long nets of despair over certain street corners, garbage piling, the sound of a bottle breaking open like a bomb–and suddenly, the curve of a red wall and a window paned in blue, with the moon hanging over it. Like no other where in the world, this city is itself in dense pockets that jostle against each other, you and all the people moving through it, leaving traces that thicken in your wake, but you yourself only able to pass through, laughing or crying.
You see why people leave this city exhausted, see how lives seep into other lives, feel the chaos of seeing yourself refracted in the minds of a multitude, how hard it is to carve a you that can withstand the streets, the people, your own fragility.
The moon casting purple shadows on white and green leaves by a quiet brownstone is nowhere else in this world.
You think you’ll read a book, you’ll watch a documentary, you’ll write a story, and the moments pass, and all you can do is pass with them with grace, let the chants carry you to the next and the next.