Cafeteria in the Sky.
So here I find myself again,
Looking out those windows tall,
At skies, and clouds, and soaring gulls,
And Brooklyn marching out below,
In rows of ordered, tree-lined streets.
Her buildings, frozen waves of brick,
Long, cresting parallels, advance
Towards that distant, sharp divide,
Where sky and earth attempt to meet,
-- Twain elements, asunder torn
In times primeval, and still kept
From union by horizon's fence,
That sweeping line, as straight as if
'Twere ruled, of old, by the precise,
Strong hand of some great artisan,
Who clove the blank unformed in twain,
And thereby gave it form, for us
To later name, as earth and sky,
And watch, with awe, and wonder, whence
Came this twofold magnificence.
And here they undulate again,
In tempos fast and slow,
This ancient sky that's new each day,
This earth that's Brooklyn now,
But once was forest, once was field,
And will, again, be so,
Just as this sky that's overcast
Will change, in time, to blue.
Across the river, men's thoughts race,
And guts contract in fright;
For there, they brook not slow of pace,
Nor faint of heart e'en slight.
Yon Mammon's temples are the place,
Where men move fast, for life's a race;
But Brooklyn's streets have rhythms slow,
To calm their fevered brains.
Manhattan's towers make hearts pound,
In awe at Mammon's might;
But Brooklyn's schools do views afford
That heal our hearts and minds...
As does this view from Brooklyn's south,
From teachers' cafeteria, set
Atop a school beside an "el",
That runs atop an avenue
With name that's Dutch, from long ago,
When this long isle had forests green,
And in its east, lived ancient tribes,
Whose place names still remain;
While, on its west, new settlers, drawn
From Europe's western Netherlands,
Had built a church, named after town,
In homeland far, that gave its name
To avenue, and then to school,
In which I sit, and contemplate,
How past to present links; and then,
How present links to the unborn;
As from this cafeteria high,
I watch a train, all silver smooth,
Appear, and glide, in silence, 'long /1
The "el" below, and disappear,
A silver dream -- now here, now gone,
That leaves me, idly wondering,
Was that a train I saw, or not,
A fact, or figment floating through?
And so I find me here again,
As I have, now, for four years past,
At first as substitute, on leave
From that familiar school, at which
I'd served for thirteen years, and which
Still pulled at me, with bittersweet
Memories of those not seen,
Nor heard from, battles lost and won...
Awhirl, within my mind and heart,
Were students' eyes, that colleague's laugh,
That room in which I'd lived and taught,
That walk at dawn, 'neath Orion's sword,
That morning ride, in back of bus,
Those days of labor, full content,
That midnight trek, back home to rest,
And rise, again, to work with zest.
< portion excised to "Lost" > /2
And 'twas with all these things in mind,
Much like a man, in love betrayed,
Or patriot, from his land exiled,
That I first came to sit inside
This cafeteria in the sky --
At first, as said, as substitute,
This view imbibing, and with hope,
Arising, deep within my heart;
And then, as teacher, with my set
Of keys and classes, learning names,
And faces, fresh and young and myriad,
With classes two, and labs fourteen,
Fall Term; and later, in the Spring,
Five classes, all the same, each day,
With youngsters, courteous and rude,
Some bright, and others not so bright,
And oldsters, helpful and not so,
With satisfactions small and great;
While tasting, often, of the bitter fruit,
Yet never, yearlong, a dull day!
And so, through new acquaintance made,
With teachers, guards, and cleaning men,
Plus others, of all sorts, who kept,
Much like a ship, the school afloat,
Each with his life, his joys, his woes,
Some needing help, some giving it,
To fill my mind with human things,
And wake my heart anew;
And overall, a friendly lot,
With old-world graces not forgot,
Beneath brash Mammon's nose --
Yes so, with these, plus work and kids,
Much like a man who's wedded new,
And slowly lets old longings go,
And painful wounds subside...
So did my whirling mind grow used
To this new village, faux, I'd found,
And let old village go;
So other matters, set aside,
Could slowly cometo mind...
And now, on leave again, because
Of family, and more, and wandering,
From school to school, like vagrant bum,
Yet learning, learning, every day,
How kindness small, and courtesy,
And paying people mind always,
Do make of life a heaven small;
Or, absent, do dismay the heart,
And harden it, and make of life
A hell, indeed, unless one has
The strength, and wisdom, lightly to
Set dross aside, and turn towards
What little is of import true --
What will be left, when we are gone,
In hearts and minds of those we see,
Yet, often, fail to truly see.
For there is much, that hearts can see,
That minds cannot, when clouded by
The smoke of striving after vanities;
And gold is cast away as dross,
And dross is sought, as shining gold,
Until, all falls away, and light
And darkness intertwine as one,
And vanish, into nothingness.
Arjun (Babui) Janah < email@example.com >,
Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, 2006 Jan 21.
(Commenced in the teachers’ cafeteria, on the 5th floor
of New Utrecht High School, on 2006, Jan 18, Wed.;
and continued and completed at home, Jan 21, Sat.) /1, 2
1. The elevated train line runs along New Utrecht Avenue, which is set at an angle to the regular grid of streets and houses in this section ofBensonhurst, Brooklyn. The trains run past the red-bricked New Utrecht High School building, which towers above the surrounding blocks of two-storey houses, but is separated from it, at closest approach, by the long New Utrecht playing field.
The tall windows of the 6th floor teachers' cafeteria face away from the playing field. Looking out from these windows, one sees the elevated trainway as a diagonal line cutting across the grid, connecting the near and far distances.
The horizontal distance, and the cafeteria’s elevation, make the noise from the passing trains fade away. At least during the noisy school day, the trains appear, from the cafeteria, to glide past, along the diagonal line, in perfect silence.
2. A section about neglect of family, resulting from preoccupation with a
teaching vocation -- with attempting to fix what may well be unfixable given
current circumstances -- and the consequences of this neglect, was added on Feb.4 Sat. This was recounted, I know not why, in aquatic allegory. It was later removed, to stand on its own as "Lost."
( For "Lost", see the 2006 Feb. 27 entry above, or at http://journals.aol.com/sjanah/dailypoet/entries/887 .)