Volume 79, Number 16 | September 23 - 29, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933


In the Village of ghosts: Seeing what isn’t there

By Jane Heil

When you have lived in Greenwich Village a long time
And walked in its neighborhoods for many years,
You see what isn’t there. You see
Bill Kunstler not sitting at the front table
At the Waverly Restaurant, thinking of ways to save
Hopeless cases.

You see Lauren Hutton not turning gloriously
On Sixth Avenue and Eighth Street, smiling, wearing
A plain khaki lining of a jacket, looking like
A million bucks.

You see bearded Sam Kramer not selling silver jewelry
On Eighth Street at MacDougal, up the stairs,
Above Davis’s Deli, where you don’t sit alone
Every Sunday evening while at NYU,
With a roast beef on rye.

You see Franz Kline and Willem de Kooning 
Not drinking and roaring in their own particular ways at
The real Cedar Bar that isn’t there on University Place
Just below Ninth Street.

You see the Brevoort Hotel and yourself as a young woman
Not being treated to their famous oyster stew
By a charming older man
Who will one day seduce you.

You see Angela Davis not being rushed
Into the Women’s House of Detention in
Nineteen-Seventy or so,
Charged with murder and conspiracy
And a hundred noisy reporters not filling up the streets.

You see the vegetable wagons on Bleecker Street
Not selling fresh tomatoes and basil and parsley
Not warning you with their wagon wheels and magical
Appearances, as if in Brigadoon, that they are going to be
Gone, very soon, very soon.

You don’t have the ninety-nine-cent eggplant at the
San Remo in Nineteen-Fifty-Nine, and the
Twenty-five-cent Chianti that goes with it. Don’t have a clue
That Gregory Corso is in the front room at the bar
Being his obnoxious self, raising a ruckus, making poetic

You catch Alberta Hunter at The Cookery, Eighth and University,
And don’t chat with Barney Josephson about his
Cafe Society Downtown, the first integrated nightclub,
Where your parents used to go before you were born.
You see the poets and acoustic guitar players in
Washington Square Park not being drowned out by the
Bad-taste comedians or the rocker guys.

And across the street the Judson Church, and Reverend
Moody, on the right side of every issue, scourge of Southern
Baptists; and his assistant minister, Al Carmines, banging on
The piano, hilarious, returning the church to its theatrical roots, 
with riotous, bawdy, amazing shows, all music, all dancing, all joy.  
You see Chock full o’ Nuts, in the heart of NYU,
And you don’t have a coffee with your young witty friend,
Your classmate, the Scottish one, the one who was so much fun.

You see Dave Van Ronk not having coffee at Vivaldi 

There’s Jack Micheline not offering you marijuana as you
Walk across the park together, startling you,
And John Wilcock, not handing out his personal handmade
Newspapers. And David Amram, intense and dazzling
In the Lion’s Head, not charming everyone who comes his way.

And Ray Bremser, writer and poet, not throwing you
into shock as he tells you he was just released from prison
Where he served time for armed robbery; what kind of sense
Can this make to a teenaged girl from middle-class Connecticut?

And Bonnie Bremser, so beautiful your poet-friend Sandy Bethune
Can’t handle the thrill of catching a glimpse of her as she relaxes on the rim
Of the fountain in the park. Writer, traveler, prostitute, wife.

You see James Baldwin, with his huge, all-watching eyes
Not hurrying up Thompson Street by the Village Gate.
Bill Cosby and his son not wandering Bleecker Street
In sweaters.

You see Art D’Lugoff enjoying the same restaurants you like yourself:
Empire Szechuan, the Bleecker Luncheonette. And coffee shops, all gone:
Rumbul’s. The Peacock. Rienzi.  
Lucca. The Figaro. O.G.’s. Sha Sha.

And more: Emilio’s, with its pleasant gravel garden,
Cucina della Fontana, a huge fountain downstairs,
And Chumley’s, with all its Commie and literary history. 
It just fell down in a heap one day and couldn’t be
Put back together again. 
And the lovely Sutter’s, bakery and coffee shop of 
distinction, where I used to go so often...  
Almost everyone remembers it. It has an honored place in the Village scrapbook 
Of our minds.

You see Phil Ochs not singing at the Gaslight,
Not tortured by America, his scarf not flying in the wind
Like John Reed’s, as he hurries east on Bleecker Street
Going home to Alice and to Meegan, who was three.

The Kettle. Bob Dylan, between oblivion and fame.
Tiffany’s, gay hangout, right on Sheridan Square. Now a bank.

You see Anais Nin that day in Nineteen-Seventy-One
Or so, not looking distressed as she, too, remembers.
And Philip Roth not dreaming in the big bookstore on Eighth Street
South side of the street, when books were the attraction there, 
Not shoes. Not furniture.

You see yourself as a young NYU student, crazed and confused,
Not making out, in careless teenaged splendor, on a bench in the park
With a really great guy who didn’t become your husband 
After all.  

What does it mean, finally, to live somewhere
In a village or The Village or anywhere else
On earth?  
This wasn’t even where you were going to live;
It was going to be a pit stop on the way to
Somewhere else — a week at a wayside inn.

Now it is forty-five years later
And this was it; your life was, mainly, here,
And everywhere you walk in your village, you see
Ghosts, and the ghosts of ghosts,
A village of ghosts, in a place that is not
The Village. 

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