nyc travelogue: prospect park

Saturday morning, I woke early, tiptoed down the stairs of J.’s three-story walk-up to the thin light of the Brooklyn morning. Stores still shuttered tight. A man in an apron came out of his bar, poured a bucket of murky water out onto the sidewalk, walked back inside. I could see the stools upturned on the counter through the smoky-gray window.

An elderly Korean sat in front of his grocery on an upended milk crate, a lit cigarette dangling from between wrinkled fingers.

At the rotary, I paused for a moment as a few taxis sped by. It was early, but still, there were some people who were already late. 

“Make sure you stay on the right part of the path,” J. had warned me. “The cyclists will yell at you and they are scary. They come at you fast.”

I didn’t walk on the bike path. As soon as I could, I turned off and into little grassy areas that yielded - unexpectedly, delightfully - a set of stone steps leading up to where? I trotted up. 

Tucked behind the creeping vines and weeds, tall now in the fullness of summer, a brown rabbit, ears pointed up. 

I wandered aimlessly, following the curves of one path and then another. I have a terrible sense of direction, and briefly imagined being hopelessly lost, circling. I did not have to worry for too long. 

When I found a bench, I sat for a few minutes, to take notes on the things I had already seen, done in the city. The last time I had been alone here, wandering, was nearly fifteen years before, just after the birth of my daughter. 

Her father and I had moved from Providence for a big job he had landed. While he traveled the globe, I walked the city with my fat, sweet baby strapped to my chest, her warm head resting near my neck. One day in the park, a woman came up to me, and said, shaking her head a bit, “You sure do kiss that baby a lot.”

Those days were like a dream. Walking, writing, navigating the crush of people everywhere. The women at the playground in their expensive shoes. Or, more often, the nannies clustered in groups, gossiping, while the children ran, dirt-streaked and open-mouthed. I thought always of that e.e. cummings poem, the goat-footed balloon man whistling far and wee -

Even my meandering aimlessly eventually led me to a point from which I could see the buildings of the city rising above the treeline. The plaza onto which my path let out was abuzz with preparations for the morning’s farmers’ market.

I walked back along the street side, the traffic already brisk, the morning in full swing. For these drivers, there is work to be done, and groceries to buy, and soccer practice and ballet class and coffee with friends. I think of M. and W. back at home, just now rising, shaking sleepy heads. The coffee to be made and the pancakes to be buttered. 

And the goat-footed
balloonMan       whistles