Both the drum sets are booming when the mosh pit begins.
Of Poets + Punks is a column that explores the relationship between music, emotion, poetry and fragmented memory.
August 3rd, the first hot day where nothing is the only thing to do. I clean my room and move furniture around. The first layout was better, so I move it all back. I measure it out and make a plan to hang the mirror. The day is slow and delicious, in that way days can only be during summers.
I manage to drag my ass to the D train for a show. At the indie gig in Sunset Park that features the lead singer of La Vida Bohème, the highway rattles next door to the small bar. His band’s fuzzy guitars are replaced by an acoustic set. Better, he’s Veneco, too. It’s easy to sit and listen to a man with a guitar, my favorite kind of man. I talk to my friend’s lover about Anaïs Nin, and think of the dude-bros I’ve spoken to who tried to mansplain Henry Miller to me, as if a woman could not be discussed without her man. Full shade to them, she was the superior writer, since y’all are so intent on comparing.
I smoke pleasantly with a friend of mine who is too high on an edible. He leaves a bit early, and soon it’s time for me to stumble home.
* * *
The forest in the forbidden part of the woods by Storm King is perfect for tripping if you go early enough. The autumn made the leaves of the trees look like cocktail gowns, my friend pointed out. She saluted every tree in reverence. I stared at the nearby river for hours, thinking of the magician from Spirited Away.
When night fell, we peaked. Suddenly the women in cocktail gowns and the river, which was a dragon, grew claws. We howled and tried to find our way back in the dark, smokers’ lungs pounding in our heads as we ran up that hill, grasping onto trees, useless users of flashlights. A deal with someone was made, but it certainly wasn’t God.
If God was present, he was in the laughs of my friends as we sped down the highway, narrowly led out of the woods by the youngest among us. She drove back, fully sober and babysitting people older than her to make sure they lived. It’s an act of service that saved our lives. All they asked for in return was a bag of hot chips and acknowledgement. Shoutout to Virgos.
* * *
My best friend showed me that famous scene from Frances Ha where she runs away to Paris when it’s cold to avoid how she feels. She has no money, and spends a lot of the trip window shopping, smoking cigarettes, and walking around. My friend jokes she had this same trip, and I didn’t truly understand what that meant until I found myself doing the exact same thing this summer.
Luckily, I left when it wasn’t cold, traveling on a very specific night of the summer when the world was faced with an eclipse. I had just moved to a new place and was breathing from past circumstances. I was going new place in the city. Where I once went without community, I found old and new friends who missed me, new libraries on boats, new parks and new grocery stores and new clubs to talk my way into. Still, often, I felt a weight. It felt like my legs were sore from running a mile in record time.
On the beach in Hydra mourning an old life on the last part of the trip, I tell the poet Kim Addonizio about how we have evaded responsibility by being somewhere else. She looked at me and said, with all the flair of a Leo born the same day as Mick Jagger: “Wherever you go, there you are.”
* * *
It’s dinner time in Santorini and the sun is setting over the Caldera. Seafood pastas, a bottle of red wine the same shade as the clouds. Your hands are warm. We recount the day with tired eyes.
The couple next to us is stunting and profusely heterosexual. He has a lot of rings on. She takes a selfie and adds it to the void. They sit and order a cornucopia before taking their phones out. They don’t say a word the entire time. I’m a little drunk now, wondering about this most modern of obsessions, that sick need to over-document our lives in the name of content. When does running from reality into our screens cross the line and become bad etiquette?
We run into the black mirror. We run with it. It falls and shatters on a road that needs paving. How many times has a dinner or a date or any other kind of gathering been halted by someone suddenly being absorbed in the palm of their own hand, face lit by LED light and a notification? They become, in that moment, more zombie than someone worth your attention. Its infectious, I check my phone shortly after they takes theirs out; both us undead at the dinner table.
* * *
I ran a lot before I started smoking. It was the only sport I liked, because I couldn’t let anyone down with my bad hand-eye coordination. Running in Miami’s mid-day humidity does something to your bones. It’s a familiar kind of musk you can’t help but run toward as soon as you get out of the airport, a specific swampiness inherent to very few other places.
When I used to run, I would enter a state beyond my body. Eyes, legs and back covered in sweat, once I began to transcend, something in me would roar out of my throat. It was a time of a lot of anime, so I saw Naruto becoming the Nine-Tailed Fox in the way my hands sliced the wind. I used to claw the air for the last sprint, stumble way past the finish line before coming back to the quieter and more familiar version of myself.
* * *
Stuyedeyed comes on after a long interlude of salsa and merengue. For me, I don’t know how else to warm up for an intense mosh pit. Both the drum sets are booming when it breaks out. My Sagittarius friend lets loose her blonde hair and becomes a shining hurricane. I spin too, weaving a secret message into the air, protecting myself with my arms, pushing when I have the chance to push, manically until the song ends.
I’m usually keen to kick in the pit, even when it’s cold. In the winter, I have destroyed two furs at the good shows that arrive when it’s sub zero, and the people who really want to mosh come to shows. For this show, I only last one song before I have to break for water.
My friend, another poet, who’s sitting on the couch beckons me over. We catch up, and we write an Exquisite Corpse together in a small alcove on the floor, directly below the stage. The lamp on the ceiling sways, and we hear the intense pounding of boots on floor and flesh. The bar is called Purgatory and it feels like it in the best way, to be between the shore and the storm, finding calm in a notebook.
* * *
I remember the moment I knew I had to leave Brooklyn.
I was waiting for a delayed C train at Rockaway Avenue in the dirty, humid tunnel so emblematic of a New York summer. Someone greeted me, that type of acquaintance, the one you know enough you can’t ignore, and yet not well enough to sustain even a water cooler conversation. The one you greet at the party and make polite conversation before running outside to smoke with your friends.
Well, you can’t do that on a train going in the same direction. I felt so naked.
Of course, the conversation did not last. We awkwardly sat across from each other and buried our faces in our respective black rectangles, rubbing them with our thumbs as they emit light. We waved goodbye, not bothering to utter a word as I ran off to transfer trains and continue on.
Always, when close friends and people I meet partying in Brooklyn ask me why I stay uptown, there are implications of running. Running from the memory of bad roommates (in my case, this spans attempted murders, privileged ketamine heads who’ve never washed a dish in their lives, and cats with one eye throwing up hairballs in the living room without accountability from their owners). Running from the shadows of the past. Running from scenes that felt too scene-y. Running from distractions.
The truth is, pissing money away at the local watering hole got old, even if the cigarettes were sweet and the conversations sweeter. Maybe I’m just old now, in that annoying way young people think they’re old. I will never know or regret that this is how I have settled into myself. I ran far enough away from that version of me and now I sit still, catching my breath.
I ran in so many circles that broke that I needed time with myself, the one person who didn’t leave. They are alright, the more I hang out with them.
This week, after my first day on a new job, I went to the beach.
E.R. Pulgar is a Venezuelan American poet, translator, editor and journalist based in New York City. Their writing has appeared in i-D, Rolling Stone, Playboy and elsewhere. Find them at the back of the bar reading poems under a disco ball.