NYC – Late Seventies

Old painting by me (supposed to be Broadway in Thick Snow!)

Old painting/collage by me (supposed to be Broadway in Thick Snow!)

New York City – Late 70s

Dear City, you were just so grey
sometimes, sky more sidewalk, building-paved–
how we loved it, the grit,
standing outside
the Pioneer Market,
up to the neck
with the two towers, pomodoro and fowl
on sale proclaimed the peeling

How great
that anywhere you were,
whatever tiled cavern you climbed out from,
you only need look up
to find out “down”–
downtown where we lived, like the guys
in the Village Voice who hadn’t been above
14th Street sporting beards–

Sleezy Deli to the East, nights, with
its bullet-proof HoHos,
but to the West by day
we could dash into the refracted brass
of the Broken Kilometer, or up a Soho blankfront
to breathe the air of a white room grounded
with the blackest earth–

Of course there was dirt
everywhere, the kind that kvetched in
our pores, even seeped inside the
cupboards as if our dishes too
wanted to wear black–

colanders upturned for star light
on the clothdroop ceilings of Sixth Street India;
“and what else” kippered the Orthodox counterguys
over brined sweetness,
the crash of Chinese opera (we always
thought) at the Lai Gong, some stringed instrument
mimicking struck cat, pork buns 25 cents–

At the bean curd factory on Broome,
the men wore
rubber boots and the guy who retrieved mine
from the blue buckets that smelled
so strongly of soy always smiling eventually
his smooth face lined with creases fine
as a pressed leaf–
when I felt low there was nothing
like that face and the pure
white cakes–

Everyone’s studio worth a visit and time to do it
with the right gig–
men not yet dying
in droves–red lights we could see forever
if we held our heads right–the night never wholly black
except sometimes on a side street
when I tried for my
hands, feet–or when I looked
for your answering gaze–
though when I moved
I could find my swish
sure enough–and sometimes you would
turn back to me–

and we could always just
look up–


A draft poem about New York in the 70’s posted for the wonderful Margaret Bednar’s prompt on With Real Toads–my computer is iffy so will be brief with process notes, but the Broken Kilometer and the Earth Room are two longterm art installations  by Walter De Maria at the Dia Art Foundation in Soho.  The men dying in droves refers to the onslaught of the AIDS epidemic.   The two towers of course the World Trade Center towers, which being at the very Southern tip of the City provided a directional landmark.   (Painting by me, doesn’t quite fit, sorry.  Margaret has some great photos on the prompt.)

PS – I realize after posting that I have misunderstood all prompts!  My brain is going as well as computer.  I am linking this to Kerry O’Connor’s  prompt on flashbacks–I will try for one with genuine present as well .  (I did at least write this in NYC in 2014, so a bit of a flashback, I guess.) 

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26 Comments on “NYC – Late Seventies”

  1. How serendipitous that you wrote a flashback poem yesterday, inspired by Margaret’s personal challenge. Although those challenges are individual, we do encourage others to try it out for themselves and post a link in comments. But this worked out perfectly.

    There is something about New York, a glamour (as in charm) and an endurance that strikes me as worthy of iconic status. I have my own memories of the city, though they occurred over a few days half a lifetime ago, but reading your description brings it all home to me. The ethos of a spot claimed by human history, still evolving, still a hub and place of dreams is all present in your poem.

  2. janehewey Says:

    so many details to linger on, yet it is a fast paced poem. much like the city itself, I think. Your opening gives me a strong sense of place, draws me further to read with the positioning among the greys… I feel small here. Especially interesting is the grit returning later as kvetching dirt. This contrasting off and on with brined sweetness and pure white cakes. Going more personal with the seller’s creases fine as a pressed leaf. An excellent write, karin.

  3. Brendan Says:

    I lived in NYC summer of ’75, partied there a few times in the late ’70s (we hit CBGBs and Max’s one night) The Stones’ “Shattered” was the anthem of the city back in that decade, wild and woolly and dangerous and thrilling. You nailed the flailing bodaciousness of southern Manhattan back then, everything all at once. You could read the present equally in these details, for sure …both ways, ha ha, at once. Sure makes the suburban megalopolis most of us live in see like a dead zone.

  4. Jim Says:

    🙂 Thank you, MDD, for this 70’s flashback of NYC. I was there, then, later, and recently. Earlier too I was in Lincoln, Nebraska, working in a factory like your poet. It was an Elgin Watch factory, I had sixteen ladies on my line to recover their boots from the yuck. Actually our yuck was oil, cutting oil all over the place. My boots went into the trunk of my car before I got in to drive or whatever.

    In NYC we stayed at 9th Avenue at 9th Street. We would walk 9th Street over to Midtown and Times Square. That got a little scary late nights.

  5. Brian Miller Says:

    love the detail in this k….the bearded men above…the sleazy deli and hobos…it gives a good feel for the city…my first time in the city was in the early 90s…and i fell in love with her instantly…been back quite a few times since…last time i was there though was when i had dinner with you so it has been a bit…i def want to get back…

  6. Steve King Says:

    Wherever this post lands, it was an enjoyment for me to read–you give a great flavor of the pace and variety of downtown, which is my favorite place to go when I’m in the City. Also there’s a sense of innocence, given the aftermath of the epidemic and what happened to the towers. I never thought of the 70s as a time in which innocence played a great part, but your writing revealed some of that. Very nice work.
    Steve K.

  7. However this poem arrived, it is a wonder. You took me back, to that so alive time, to the grit and the grime and the glory. I so enjoyed the trip back………a catch in the throat at the towers and the men soon enough dying in droves…..New York, New York. You took me there!

  8. hedgewitch Says:

    colanders upturned for star light
    on the clothdroop ceilings

    I fell in love with that image, and it is only one of many with which you bring the time and place alive for us, k. Just gorgeous writing, and full of a sens of the past–not a dead past, but a teeming cauldron/crucible past, that forms us, affects us and that we can taste on our tongues all our lives. I especially love the way you pile image on image, tumbling down, profusion and confusion yet always, the touchstone of looking up–which I see as hope, sustenance, a guideline–all those things that weave into our lives from the place we choose to live them. An excellent, memorable piece, Karin.

  9. I was in NY in the early 80’s – things were changing very rapidly. Why did we love that gray and dirt, even the smell of diesel exhaust? Your poem is full of food and that is one of my strongest memories: no matter how mean life got you could always find delicious and affordable food. And New Yorkers may not stop and stare – they’re in a hurry – but they do look up!

  10. gailatthefarm Says:

    I was there with you. Like your painting too.

  11. You paint a vivid picture – for me, a hillbilly from northern British Columbia, this is as surreal as a moonscape. I would love to travel to NYC one day but quite frankly it might be too much city for this kid.

  12. Marian Says:

    men not yet dying in droves. kvetching. this is fantastic, Karin.

  13. Your poem is rich with images…I love your journey…beautiful

  14. Cosmoscami Says:

    Oh I love this! I love this!
    So much energy. So real and present [past. Ha!]
    Great descriptions of the city!

  15. Mama Zen Says:

    This is vivid and alive! Excellent work.

  16. Loved this – you took me there.
    I didn’t visit in the 70s. I was “doing” Colorado – and that Rocky Mountain High figure skating lalalala. I wished at the time to have been there.

    Saw NYC for the first time on July 4 1965. My husband thought it had been hit by a bomb threat.(The residents were headed to mountains or beaches) The streets were empty and cars were streaming away from the city. We drove down every street in Manhattan from the Battery to the Bronx in 45 minutes on our way to Boston.( I wouldn’t just drive by New York). I could see everything and I proclaimed “it was downtown everywhere you looked” to everyone back in Texas. The next time I returned was the late 80s and have made fairly regular trips since.

    Those must have been good times for you back then. I wonder how different my life would have been had I turned down my husband and headed for the city. It didn’t happen. We all make our choices.

  17. Susan Says:

    How powerful, a Ginsberg and Whitman of a poem, image after image cataloged and contained–wow. I braved NYC (an upstate New Yorker, I have to specify “the city”) in the 1980s when men and others began dying in droves and sex became unfree. But the grit, drama, food and sky were still there and are today. Thank you for this treasure from your unfettered mind.

  18. “Men not yet dying”. That was a beautiful line. I’ve always been fascinated by yoru city. This poem brought me a few inches closer.


    Greetings from London.

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