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The calendar says, Spring, but the weather says, Nope. On the Upper East Side, the sky is grey. Central Park’s trees are stately but they still present as winter-dormant silhouettes. A low wall separates me on the city sidewalk from the green of the Park, but the starlings don’t care about boundaries, and they sit on the wall, swoop down to pavement on one side, grass another. They know on which side their bread is buttered, and they are happy to eat it, wherever it is.
I hold my camera steady and wait for them to pose. I know the starlings are commonplace here, but they are still birds, and I like flying dinosaurs, whatever kind they may be. I wished I could have seen the fancy Mandarin Duck, the “hot duck” that appeared from somewhere one year on the crescent-shaped lake, and I still yearn to, but I know he is gone. I am happy enough with the usual residents. On New York City’s streets I’ve only seen rock pigeons in a variety of color forms; although when I tilt my head back and look carefully I can pick out little sparrows, flying in and out of open traffic light poles to get to their nests. So a starling or two in the Park is welcome.
Although my map shows a solid line, it is an invisible border between the little rolling hills and lake, playing fields and tunnels, and the river of pedestrians, sea of yellow taxis, fog of street vendors with flags and bagels, and heat of buildings pressed close. Paths into and out of the Park take me to different worlds in an instant. They are the hidden swinging doors: with them, the past tags along.
Like scattered tattoos, statues mark a perceived important person, historical moment, or celebrated event. I’m both baffled and awed by the Obelisk: dubbed Cleopatra’s Needle, whose twin stands on the bank of the Thames in London, their sister in Paris. A four-way world connection, since you must include Egypt, their original home. The Obelisk, carved of red granite with now worn hieroglyphics, a kind of poetry, weighs as much as forty-five elephants, so there’s a five-way connection, if you count the elephants. A time capsule is buried beneath it containing the 1870s census, the Bible, Webster’s dictionary, a guide to Egypt, a copy of the Declaration of Independence, and the complete works of William Shakespeare. Time is fluid as the past becomes the present. What could we possibly agree to bury today?
One community agreed that the Park needs more monuments to women, adding to the already-placed fictional characters of Shakespeare’s Juliet, Alice in Wonderland, and Mother Goose. I will miss seeing the Women’s Rights Pioneers, the statue of Suffragists Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, since it has not yet been installed, and I will have to search out the Poet’s Corner another time. Within the nooks and crannies of 840 acres, the bronze head and shoulders of Irish poet, Thomas Moore is made to look taller than the short man he was, a peculiar advantage of statuary: revision. The statue is twelve feet high.
Across the Park on the West Side, much better than gazing at monuments, I encounter a living poet. The man on a bench explains that he is not a bad man; he is the Central Park Poet: a dollar a poem, or three poems for three dollars, five if you want to help out. He jokes that they let him out on Tuesdays, but I am sure he resides daily in the Park, a fixture as any statue, bench, or bird I’ve come to see. “Where you from? California? Everybody’s got to come from somewhere,” the Poet says. This is his home. I am the stranger here.
My black boots spring a hole in the heel from walking eight miles a day, joining the resident ranks on foot as much as possible, hoping to become an honorary New Yorker. Remade with every limping step and every visit, my mind map gratefully expands. I ease back into the City for a sandwich, the pigeons resolved and working around my feet.
by Alisa Golden