The Bronx in the 1960s was a difficult place, and one of our writers lived there in a sixth floor walk-up apartment with her mother. Rents were cheap, and as immigrants at poverty level they had been attracted to the neighborhood. But some buildings were burning, the streets were contested by gangs, and political groups were in conflict or disarray.
One day the City condemned their building, and all five floors beneath them emptied out. Mother and daughter stayed a while longer. When they came home at night to the deserted hallways, her mother stamped her feet hard on the floor and all the way up the five flights of stairs. Her daughter did the same. The mother called out, again and again, “Hurry up, George!” as if her husband were just behind them. In reality he was at work across town, but the muggers didn’t know this.
Years later the writer asked her mother how she felt about that time.”I didn’t think much about it. I thought it was just the way things were.”
“Just the way things were”? When neighborhoods are burning, and it’s dangerous to walk to the corner store and buy a quart of milk? We wonder what that does to a young writer’s psyche, and how she might react later.
But the writer calls herself a “recovering MFA graduate” and says she likes staying in touch with chaos. She did five years traditional training in literature and, ultimately, she found it boring to her creative impulse. She must have felt some resonance with the chaos, or its familiarity made chaos necessary to her work, or part of her recognized that at least some uncertainly is a quality of life. Everywhere. It was certainly present those years in the Bronx.
She says, “I invite chaos into my writing.”
Chaos is familiar territory to Chalcedony (Kal-SAID-en-ee), the spirit woman in my collections Chalcedony’s Songs. She lives in the passionate, archetypal currents running through our bodies, and the ride is often rough. Often chaotic. Her world doesn’t conform to our wishes, certainly, of how things should be. But Chalcedony likes the wildness and the rambunctiousness, and wants everyone else to enjoy it, too. Or at least to come to terms with it.
Especially her lover. Doesn’t he recognize that parts of life are always spinning out of control? In “Song Three” she admonishes him, one day when boundaries had dissolved and their impulses were overlapping. Everything was mixed up and intertwining, even at the atomic level.
“You think this is aggravating?” she shouts, “You think this isn’t the way of the world?”