POETRY

Ben's Back in Town, 2012

Ben’s back in town. He’s eating raw food and we saw him in a film about women jazz musicians. I told him today. Bass player. I met him in my neighborhood - Red Hook, Brooklyn - around 2006. And he became my tenant - we shared the house. He liked that it was so off the grid. Very wild and bad neighborhood and dangerous and deserted then but artists were moving in. I was within walking distance of the big then empty 200 year old warehouses stretching out into the water on piers. The Red Hook projects near by. Just like in Williamsburg people moving into the poor deserted small brown stones, warehouses and wooden cottages. My house was a wooden cottage renovated by artists before me in the 70’s. Built in 1912. Metal winding stairs first floor to second, 15’ x 20’ sq - 2 floors; sprung dance floor on second level - big mirrors and a single large beam rescued from the nearby beach holding up the ceiling. On the first floor was a single open room including kitchen with bathroom - looked out on a deck onto the backyards of the neighborhood. Lots of wild red morning glories, sunflowers the previous tenant had planted, a big butterfly bush, oriental poppies and irises. Ivy grew up the stockade fence surrounding my backyard open to a big sky a few blocks from the sea. On Sunday the neighborhood was filled with Puerto Rican Pentecostal church singing. I was surrounded by Van Brunt Street, Van Dyke Street, Beard Street, Coffey Street and Conover. Quiet enclosed us. It was deserted and empty - many abandoned buildings. Packs of homeless dogs lay on Coffey Street near my house 20 min from Manhattan. Beautiful clear light from the sea like Vermeer filled the neighborhood especially on good days. It was as if artists, the poor, the failures and the addicts owned the place - for a while. Most other people were afraid to go there. I was okay because I had friends (Gunther) who told me I would be all right there - he had moved there from Greene Street in the 80’s. He was the electrician who electrified his own and half the lofts in Soho. Robert Frank was one of them and they became good friends. That was in the 60’s. It was Gunther's loft I moved into with his wife Martha when our marriages were falling apart. Soho was a refuge for artist types as Red Hook had become. We helped each other with our kids - I had two girls and he had a boy. They played together - we survived on the outskirts of the city then known as the garment district as Millennium, Film Forum, and Film Anthology came into being and later Soho turned into a shopping nightmare from what once was a refuge from it. 

He went all over the world - Ben did - and then he came home to Red Hook. At first he lived in the basement apt but then when I moved to an intentional community - Twin Oakes - Ben rented the house and moved in. I found him in Red Hook at 360 where I used to eat almost every nite. First high end restaurant in Red Hook - Scott's place. Ben was very conscientious and responsible. At the same time he was able to cut loose and fly in his music. Gotta make room for the inscrutable beauty and harmony of it all - the ecstasy of the universe. And when Hurricane Sandy came it flooded my basement where he lived at the time, submerging his record collection - he cleaned up the water with me. His kindness was great. He brings our neighbor the bicycle repair man drums from his trips. We were all in awe of him. We thought we were failures by comparison. But he was very relaxed with everyone.

Ben comes form Maine and liked my Maine paintings - He gave me his Champion juicer in exchange for a large Maine painting.

 

When he played at the Village Vanguard we went to hear him for free. He would give us tickets to come. When my devoted cat Freddy died I came back from the commune. James who was also from Maine took care of Freddy for a while and came with me to the vet when he had to go. He and Ben were with me when we buried Freddy in the yard. We had a ceremony.  These are some things I remember of Red Hook and Ben. I loved living in Red Hook until the flood forced me out. Red Hook increased greatly in value after that.