Monday, May 23, 2011

Down Under

Completed in 1883. At the time, the longest suspension bridge in the world

When Alice came to the city she had a hankering to go over the bridge into Brooklyn, which got her talking about the time in the 70s, when her artist husband, Chris, had a studio in a backwater neighborhood located between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges. Later, one of their friends came up with the name DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), to discourage developers from moving into the area.

Lot of good that did! DUMBO is now one of the most desirable neighborhoods in Brooklyn. So yesterday I went to see for myself, setting off across the Brooklyn Bridge with about a thousand other people—mostly French tourists.

Halfway over, I met a young poet sitting on a Benjamin Moore paint can, with "poems" written on a cardboard placard, attached to his sweater; his name was Robert. He looked like he'd just stepped out of Bloomsbury London, circa 1927, or perhaps a Steinbeck novel about the Great Depression, but actually he was a student at Brown, getting a Masters Degree in Literary Arts.

The Poet with his Royal 

Robert had the coolest little Royal typewriter from the 50s, which conjured up images of the Joseph Mitchell/New Yorker era, when writers and poets would poke at those extended, stiff keys to tell stories of the sea, or ports of call, or cantankerous stubby characters—or in Mitchell's case—all of the above, as embodied in the South Street Seaport. Fishmongers, river captains, and legions of rats populate his stories, which recorded life around Fulton Street. Good thing Mitchell can't see the old neighborhood now, with its Disney like setting and Bath and Body Works and Gap stores.

For an unspecified donation, Robert said he'd write me a poem. It seemed like a good idea. I stood patiently by, while he attacked one key after another, resting between each stroke. Finally, the poem was finished. Here it is, to be shared by poetry lovers everywhere:

                                                  Die Woge (The Wave)

The borrower would spend

nights with her own arms


national surveys


lost bodies;

wall crosser;

green fog;

your first 




The poem is profound I think. Or if not, then, at least, is the poet sitting on the bridge, and I slipped him a nicely sum under his papers. 

Once over the bridge I walked down the cobblestone streets of DUMBO, passing boutiques and storefronts that had homey names, like, "The General Store," which in this case turned out to be a white table clothed eatery. At Front and Washington, I found a great used bookstore, where I bought three books, had a double macchiato at a little French bakery around the corner, and then caught the subway home— sweet funky Canal and Broadway home. May the old and the smelly, the historic and the dilapidated, of Canal and Broadway never change!


  1. Wonderful photos, and a joyful, evocative post. A great adventure, crossing the bridge. You never know what might happen, do you?

  2. Melissa summed it up ... terrific, and such a terrific encounter and story and poem. That green fog, that first word -- who cares if he uses them before and after, it is just right for you. And three books to take home, memento-trifecta! Love you, Charlotte. And New York is not the same without you. Bring Tom here!!