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“Manhattan”

It’s the final year of my 30s
and I want to say something like

“Donald Trump became president
and I don’t believe in nostalgia
anymore” or 

    “I got my heart broken 
and survived to live into another life”
    or 

“Have I wasted my life living for
so many years in these towns?”

but I’m almost forty, dammit—
aren’t I supposed to be done
with these histrionics?
    Haven’t I, who can’t even make
her way to the end of most novels,
stopped telling stories like this?

No.

I made a mix (trans. “playlist”) in 
every year of my 30s so it’d be easier
to call up ancient feelings—no—
for the love of music—yes—
to prove I could still fall in love
when everyone else clung to the songs
of their teens and twenties.

I’m writing this in a limited edition
green Moleskine with Bob Dylan’s
sunglassed face on the cover, smeary
and Warholian. I’m writing this 
on the first day of a month in which
I know I’ll have to change my life
again. Wanderer, I’ve been wandering.

There it is: she chose me.
The two biggest New York gifts of music
were moving there the summer 
“Empire State of Mind” soared out
of every car stereo, almost cartoonishly, 
and having Cat Power’s “Manhattan” 
come out a few years later.

I feel sure that I was listening to it
on the balcony of the SoHo hotel
where I stayed the night after
getting hitched at the Manhattan
Marriage Bureau, but the internet
tells me the album wasn’t released
until two months later, so what I
must actually be remembering is
the little video I made, balcony view,
“Manhattan” soundtrack, deleted
like so many memories of those years.

“I was married at 30 in Manhattan.”
A trivia fact, exotic and Didionesque,
seeming to belong to someone else’s
life from where I sit here, almost nine
years later (could that be true?) in a
little house on the prairie. (Okay, it’s big
and full of neighbors.) I was divorced
in Brooklyn several years later.

In the unauthorized biography of
Chan Marshall that I checked out from 
the Brooklyn Public Library main branch
in my 30s, I learned that she still kept
her small rent-controlled East Village 
apartment, the one she’d had since 
she first moved to New York.

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph
Chan explains, “So everyone’s dead,
the mythological Liberty, the romantic
notion of it,” which is also something 
I was trying to say in Empire Wasted
which is how I ended up borrowing the 
phrase “Liberty in the basement light”
from “Manhattan” as a section title, 
an image that has always evoked for me
a hard-won, squalid bohemian freedom.

In 2012, was I still downloading leaked 
albums before they were released? I log 
into my neglected iTunes to discovered 
that Sun is in my library. Is it possible 
I was playing “Manhattan” on the balcony
at the SoHo hotel? Why does it matter 
so much if it was diegetic or non-diegetic 
sound? Why did I get married when 
things were already going downhill? 
Because I want to know how I was 
accompanied, because I’m a romantic, 
and because I want to try to tell the truth.

“This song has everything: loss, the moon,
the big city, secrets, piano, and dancing,”
I say in the voice of Stefon from SNL.

Rereading the lyrics, “Manhattan” remains
a mystery. I keep listening. It slips away. 
You and your secret life. 
What does it mean to “be” Manhattan?
Why shouldn’t we look at the moon?

For many months or years I thought 
she sang You’ll never leave never leave
Manhattan
instead of never be, and 
although this is not verified by any source
I can find, I never quite un-hear it.

2 thoughts on ““Manhattan”

  1. YES!!

  2. THIS. this poem is my church today.

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