A Quarterly Journal of Contemporary English Language Haibun
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September 2008, vol 4 no 3

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Doris Heitmeyer

Sound of Jackhammers

Building façades are being repaired all over New York City—a windfall for the contractors. So I'm not surprised to see scaffolding in front of the tenement where I used to live. It was due for an overhaul when I moved in 50 years ago. This is where I lived during the years of art school, the part time subsistence jobs, fruitless attempts to find a gallery, night classes at NYU. The friendship that ended in betrayal on both sides. My first love affair. The end of it. Years as medical transcriptionist and after-work ballet fan, heart-free, the happiest of my life. Years when the future was before me and I thought I would never die.

Home from the ballet
visions of Nureyev
dance in my head.

Not only scaffolded—boarded up. I can see daylight through the gaps. I walk past slowly, stopping for a better look. Two street kids lounging under the scaffold think me very funny. This crazy old white lady with a cane, staring past them at an old wrecked building. What a hoot. They begin a little hip-hop dance. I stop and retrace my steps. The back yard is open to the sky. I recall its bare packed earth, the scrawny witch hazel, the silver maple that bloomed at my kitchen windows. The cats, at least a dozen, fed by the soft-hearted landlady who grieved when one of the toms lost an eye in battle. We lived closer to nature then. A whole world lost as high-rises went up around it.

In at the window
strayed from what distant water

The two kids, laughing, break into even wilder antics, trying to get my attention. I'd like to tell them what this place meant to me. They might understand. Kids nowadays show surprising insight when you appeal to their better nature. But I smile and move on.

The pigeon flies a straw
to its niche in the scaffolding
—sound of jackhammers.

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