Guest Post, Nelly Rosario: Welcome III

Pratt Institute Sculpture Park

Brooklyn, 2006

Photo of statues kneeling in parkA head goes missing on Monday.  Man #2, second from left, suffered the blow. I stand above him, nursing the cutaway view of his neck. Overnight, the lipstick mark I planted on his neck the day prior had been cut in half. The concrete grain feels like bone.

Just yesterday, Sunday, I posed between him and Man #1. I knelt in Virasana. It was a struggle forming prayer hands behind my back; reverse Atmanjali mudra always hurts shoulders, arms, and wrists. The days of the arrested being handcuffed hands-front are long gone, an aspiring cop once told me; the standard today is behind-the-back, palms faced outward. Bad yoga. I switched to Dhyani mudra, hands visible on lap for the camera. The stranger who took my photo was careless: a campus security guard cheeses at us in the background.

So Monday is sucking. Concrete is supposed to be strong, even on its knees. My morning walk through Pratt is supposed to remind me that life is good. Like a sawed-off index finger, the beheading gives me the urge to vomit up my shitty job, then eat an everything bagel. The E train with my name on it must be in Manhattan by now. Boss will have to swallow my latest excuse: “Man #2 needed a memorial.” I flag down an art student, who takes my picture: me kneeling behind Man #2 so that he bears my head.

“Welcome II” is a “commentary and protest on recent events” by South African sculptor Raphael Zollinger. The work “examines both personal and public representations of social change”. But now the eye has begun the inevitable countdown: four to go. I stay up too late, counting. Checking account balances, my daughter’s math homework, sheep. Insomnia has me munching popcorn tonight, watching “The Battle of Algiers”. Sleep finally comes during Mambo #0, just as the French bar blows up. In the dream I argue with Raphael:

Pérez Prado invented the mambo.

Benny Moré invented the mambo.

No, he didn’t.

Yes, he fucking did.

1010 WINS breaks the loop. Tuesday is staticky. New York’s terrorist alert is “high,” worse than yesterday’s “elevated,” yellow to orange in mambo time. “Let them throw the bomb, already,” growls a woman waiting for the bus near Pratt. I’m also tired of wincing. Yesterday my boss complained about my tardiness to the temp agency. Today I must delay again and check up on the Pratt 5. Hurry never turns out well. So I will delay my delay and get coffee. “They should cut off his hands,” growls the bodega owner. We hope the vandal will get caught soon. His son walks with me to see the carnage at Pratt, breaking some news along the way: “Yo, I got into the Police Academy.” No more bodega counters for him. I’m happy for him, really I am, but I tell him to go ahead and look at the Pratt 5 without me. I stay at the rose garden, where I pick dandelions, smoke a cigarette, finish my coffee. Once the coast is clear, I walk to the Pratt 5 and find that the four remaining lips taste like nickels.

Wednesday morning, Mambo #0: I’m fired. The temp agent’s voice is sunny with the news. I have Man #5 listen to the voicemail. He is stone-faced. I lay on the grass beside him in Shavasana, waiting for the vandal. The dead man’s pose is illuminating. I think of things thought to have never been: Humpty Dumpty was never described as an egg and Marie Antoinette never said, “Let’em eat cake,” and Van Gogh never cut off his whole ear. Let the vandal come now.

The rain is insane on Thursday. I do not have to fax or answer phones or proofread legalese. It’s proper that I do some writing. It’s proper that I stop to notice that one of my goldfish is swimming upside-down: swimbladder disease. It’s proper that I eat red-velvet cake for breakfast at Mike’s. It’s proper that I return books to the library, then take a quick nap over a stack of graphic novels. And after a clap of thunder wakes me up at noon, it’s proper that I pick up my kid at school, earlier than usual. She helps me administer the medicine to our sickly goldfish: feeding it peas gets it swimming right-side-up in no time.

Friday lands on new proofreading gig at Ogilve & Mather. En route to the subway, a sight makes me spill my coffee: the Pratt 5 is whole again. Man #2 has a brand-new head. Seen up close, the change back to normal drains my solar plexus, like the dry-heave withdrawal at the end of a hiccup spell. Had the artist been the vandal all along? I don’t know, and I don’t want to know. What I do want to know is that Cachao invented the mambo, and whether I would make it to work on time.

Guest Blog Post, Nelly Rosario: Spidey Senseless: Belated Obituary to Nancy

Nelly RosarioA spider’s web is stronger than it looks. Although it is made of thin, delicate strands, the web is not easily broken.

From Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

During Texas Halloweens we had no need for decorations.

The entrance to our house in San Marcos was laced with webs that regenerated as quickly as connective tissue. My daughter and I had the nerve to hang fake webs—later we’d find very, very real spiders outnumbering the plastic ones.

I’m not an arachnophobe.

Growing up in New York meant seeing spiders mostly anthropomorphized in narratives like Anansi trickster tales, Spiderman comic books, and E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web (whose title character gives birth to a spiderling whose name I shared).

Two Octobers ago I met my very own Charlotte. Let’s call her Nancy, and this her belated obituary. In life, she was nowhere the size of a gumdrop, weighing in at over an inch long. Less Charlotte and more the arachnidized beldam-mom in Henry Selick’s Coraline, packing an infinitesimal waist, four pairs of needles, and a sunburst of black and yellow tattooed on her bodacious abdomen. Probably kept a whip and patent-leather thigh-high boots somewhere in the bushes.

We must advertise Wilbur’s noble qualities, not his tastiness. 

Nancy was a webgineer with the steely work ethic of my parents, made dumplings out of prey her dorsal markings attracted. Daily she wove and unwove masterpieces.  Her stabilimenta, the series of X’s and Z’s in certain spider webs, have arachnologists moonlighting as lit critics confounded by text. Theories abound. Some credit Nancy as the original writer of “web ads”: stabilimenta as simply aesthetic or made to attract prey and mates by reflecting UV light. No, others argue, stabilimenta serve as stop signs to keep birds from flying into a hard day’s work.  The word itself points to the long-dismissed theory that the stabilimentum is meant to stabilize the web.

All I knew then was that Nancy’s web would fan out in a diameter of over two feet, from the outer windowsill of my daughter’s room to a corner of the house and the bushes below.

In her runic configurations I read: “Girl, I do a heck of a lot more hunting, cooking, and writing in a day than you do in a semester of grading, teaching, not writing.”

Well, my daughter wasn’t having it. “Ma, tear it down already.”

“Nope, not messing with that.”

“Ah ha, you’re scared.”

“She just gets my respects.”

“Yup, you’re scared.”

“It’s not fear. A broom or good hosing—”

“Then do it.”

“After Halloween.”

“You have been my friend,” replied Charlotte. “That in itself is a tremendous thing.”

Then Nancy turned frenemy. Her dominion expanded to the entrance of the house, a fact bitchily pointed out by a neighbor who came over for coffee one night.  To her, every spider is a flesh-eating brown recluse. No way, no how was drinking Ethiopian-grown coffee worth losing life and limb. How utterly irresponsible of me to indulge such fascination with a spider, she said, rather than protect my daughter from gangrene.

Most people believe almost anything they see in print.

The tyranny of motherhood kicked in.  My broom made dust bunnies out of that web, sending Nancy wriggling to a corner of the ceiling, then to the floor.  (Yes, she thudded.) Encouraged by my neighbor’s ululations, I aimed the broomstick at the yellow star and cleaved Nancy in two.

Once the coffee mugs were washed, the neighborhood gossip traded, the buenas noches and gracias exchanged, I locked my door, feeling some-pig awful. Judas-awful.

A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies.

Google unveiled Nancy as non-venomous and among the most easily recognizable spider species in North America: Argiope aurantia.

The Writing Spider.

While sweeping away Nancy’s fragments the following morning I saw “radiant, terrific, humble” writer me in the dustpan.

If it had taken Charlotte a lifetime to weave those three simple words, how long would it take me to rewrite them in the blank pages of a writing life overtaken by years of teaching?  Where, really, is the safest place to weave the stabilimentum of one’s dream? And once a haven’s found, how then to atone for a crime against the creature whose role in West African and Caribbean myth is that of trickster and bringer of stories to earth?

“Ever try to spin one?” asked Dr. Dorian.