An ode to New York City, a city where anything can happen at any time…
by: Carolynn Kingyens
When I first moved to New York City five years ago, my senses felt like they were under assault twenty-four seven. My ears(honking — screeching halt of subway cars — honking), eyes (extreme wealth — extreme poverty — unfurled freak flags and middle finger salutes), taste buds, (beef tendon pho — Taro bubble tea — Chinese food at midnight), nose (falafel carts — bodega bacon — pot (year-round) and piss (summer months apply only), and hands (sweaty, subway hand rails –petting bodega cats — holding my daughters’ hands as we walk to school) were bombarded with new and vibrant adventures. I’d never felt more alive.
Every city, I’ve heard, has a song. Anthony Kiedis, lead singer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, wrote “Under the Bridge” for his beloved Los Angeles. According to the song’s Wikipedia page: “Kiedis’ feelings of alienation from his bandmates led him to feel like the city of Los Angeles was his only companion.” Kiedis explains:
“I felt an unspoken bond between me and my city. I’d spent so much time wandering through the streets of L.A. and hiking through the Hollywood Hills that I sensed there was a nonhuman entity, maybe the spirit of the hills and the city, who had me in her sights and was looking after me.”
Los Angeles may have “Under the Bridge,” but New Yorkers have Frank Sinatra’s forever-timeless and iconic, “Theme From New York, New York.1” In my childhood memories, though, this song would always be synonymous with Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve countdown, where my family huddled in a collective around a grainy television set, encased inside of a wooden box that looked eerily similar, at least in size and scale, to the Ark of the Covenant from the 1981 movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark.
As soon as the “beach ball” reached the bottom of what looked like a giant-sized thermometer, the confetti would rain down on Times Square as we watched, transfixed, inside our Northeast Philly row home, Frank’s voice blaring in the background as everyone hugged, kissed, or high-fived into another year.
The other day, while waiting for an A train at Jay Street, a subway performer, who goes by the name of “Jay Starr,” began singing The Beatle’s hauntingly-beautiful song, “Let It Be,” penned by Paul McCartney. Starr resembles Bob Marley, mainly due to his high cheekbones, and kind, wise-looking eyes. When Starr sang “And when the broken-hearted people / Living in the world agree / There will be an answer,” it stopped me in my tracks. I immediately thought: How many people come to New York to ‘Let It Be’ — the freaks and outcasts; dreamers and over-achievers; the damaged and those not damaged yet?” Perhaps, we’re just one, big Breakfast Club-City collectively learning to let it be.
What I love most about this resourceful, industrial, hustle-city, besides the plethora of performers, is the unspoken agreement that anything can happen at any time. Miracles are possible here. Maybe that stranger, whom you will sit next to on the same Central Park bench, is really just an angel in disguise, or a reincarnated, laid-back Lennon, who may acknowledge your presence with a badass tip of his hat like in a foreign espionage movie, where information is passed through covered coughs and left behind briefcases.
Since moving here, I’ve learned several greetings in seven languages, one being “As-salāmu ʿalaykum,” meaning “Peace be upon you” in Arabic. Muhammad, a kind bodega owner, taught me this sacred greeting. He also calls Lucy, his sweet, tabby cat, up from the dark cellar, where she’s been sleeping or killing, so my daughters can pet her, so my daughters can smile.
On the days when I’m mindful enough, usually involving a few cups of coffee, I can hear the faint call to prayer over the incessant honking, over the subway cars rumbling down in Dostoyevsky’s underground.
Carolynn Kingyens’ debut poetry collection — Before the Big Bang Makes a Sound (Kelsay Books) — is now available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Greenlight, Book Culture, and Berl’s Poetry Shop. She will be on a radio show in April for National Poetry Month. Today, Carolynn lives in New York City with her husband of 20 years, two beautiful, kind daughters, a sweet rescue dog, and a very old, happy cat.
- Composed by John Kander, with lyrics by Fred Ebb, and famously sung by Liza Minnelli in Martin Scorsese’s film New York, New York (1977). [↩]