“Street Landscaping,” “Hoodie in the Wind” and “City Birds”

Issue 48 by Brian Kerr

“Street Landscaping,” “Hoodie in the Wind” and “City Birds”

Street Landscaping

On concrete, brick and asphalt, filth sits atop. It doesn’t sift into the ground. It runs into the sewers but first it spends days, weeks, months lingering in puddles that don’t evaporate. Too much building shade and east coast oceanside atmospheric overcast. Winter is not done with us yet, but we may be through the worst of it. Now seems to come the cold rain in place of snow that my tired back had to shovel. I enjoyed shoveling snow. It was a part of my environment that I could mold to my will. I see the dirty puddles and I wish I had a broom, so that I could sweep them into the sewers. And caught up in the bristles of those giant push brooms would be plastic caps, broken glass, used condoms, cigar guts, face masks, dog shit and all of the city’s ruefully discarded waste. I was once a landscaper. I shaped the land to make it more beautiful. I pulled weeds, turned the soil, gave life to plants. How does one landscape a sidewalk? Or a city street? What batch of concrete can I call my own for beautification? Is it permanent or is it just the winter cycle? Spring and new life have not yet made their turn. So, we still must witness the destruction and the ruin. Urban blight? My generation has seen it but now we all feel it in these hard times. What can I do to build back up my community? Is it my community? Does Black mix with Spanish Brown? Do the people that live here even feel that it is their community, or the place they are forced to live? Can a landscaper help organize the streets, the people and make the city beautiful and ready for the spring? Can a writer make his neighborhood look like a Robert S. Duncanson painting?

Hoodie in the Wind

I was thinking of the wind sweeping through the tunnels made by the streets, the avenues. A sidewalk tree butts against scaffolding. In some cruel arborist fashion, a metal rod sticks out of a busted tree knot to prop the grand wooden creature against a scaffolding that will never come down. There is a corruption. Scaffolding that darkens and uglifies a street. A building that will never get its due repairs. The tree creeks in the wind hinting that a violent collapse might take place atop me as I walk by. What will fall first? The tree, the scaffolding, or the entire broken-down building. The wind is cold, and I put up my hoodie. I feel like an old wanderer in the wild of some old medieval forest. A black man, uptown using an article of clothing for its original purpose, but who might think that I am using it instead to conceal, to intimidate, to make myself appear a threat. Dark skin and a hoodie make me look like a threat. My white mother said as much. We love but also disagree. The night wind blows in my face. Dust, swirled in the air misses my eyes. My ears stay warm, and I have my hoodie to thank for that.

City Birds

Our window is open. Letting the cool air into the apartment. Breathing in fresh air and creating a flow of life that is the opposite of stagnation. We still find ourselves in the late days of winter. Early March, but spring is just around the corner. We have a fire escape from which to witness life take place. Hawks perch atop iron rooftop poles whose purpose other than to look like jagged protruding spikes I cannot distinguish. I've written about the hawk before. Favorite bird. I break on that as I see the sun paint the red brick on an adjacent building into an almost desirable orange. Hawks feast on pigeons. A passel of pigeons’ flap and soar above the roof tops. Doves hoot like daytime owls on fire escapes and within the trees. House sparrows, that are always on the street, peck the concrete and soil for seeds and discarded remnants of humanity. Sterling's jack people and then their own people for what little food is to be had. Blue Jays twit and cry their gang calls, summoning their like, sending away others, imitating the rawness of a crow. A crow will only land if it finds itself a dead thing left by the cunning of a hawk. Cardinals bother no one, but turf battle with the blue jays like the warring of Bloods and Crips. If I sit out on the fire escape, seeds in my hand, the birds might tell me to fuck off. Get your ass back to the North Woods over in Central Park. Let a titmouse mother fucker feed off that shit. Somebody made these birds hard. But it wasn’t me. Can I get them to trust me? To know that brick and bars don’t always have to be hard? Should I kidnap one and manumission him, repatriate them to the forest? Or is the comparison not akin? They can leave the city if they choose but not take themselves back across the sea. Some of these birds did not fly freely from Europe. Somebody caged their ancestors. Is the pigeon the black man and are other birds redlining them to keep them in the inner city? How far, how absurdist do I want to take the metaphor? In summation, I believe I may get myself a birdfeeder. Birds are free to have of it as they please.

About the Author

Brian Kerr

Brian Kerr is an African American man in his early thirties who writes poetry, fiction and essays. His favorite subjects are world history, nature, animals, New York City culture and the experience of Black life in America. His perfect day might include a wooded hike, a visit to the Arms and Armor collection at the Met, or sitting comfortably on his couch and reading a good adventure novel. He is a graduate of The City College of New York MFA Creative Writing Program. He currently works as a non-profit development officer. He has published poetry in the Olive Tree Review and Promethean. He is a born and raised New Yorker, where he currently resides.