New York City and Dylan Thomas

Housing Works Cafe…I somehow always run into this place every time I’m in New York, even though Crosby street in Soho isn’t exactly a street one would encounter easily. I’ve been here on rainy Sundays to take shelter. I’ve sat in the little cafe area with hot tea and a random book from the shelf, so delighted to be alone. I’ve bought used poetry books and novels, among them, I remember, Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar.

Of course this time I had to go browse the small poetry nook found up the winding staircase.  I came upon the same edition of Dylan Thomas’s collected poems that I had lost for some time now, a collection that has lived its meaningful moments during my time in college. Once a guy I was briefly and violently in love with (named Dylan) chose a poem randomly from that book and read it to me before I went to sleep. It turned out to be the best one in the whole collection, or at least I fell in love with it and have not fallen out ever since.

Dylan Thomas was a deeply troubled Welsh poet whose lyrical poems are pretty morbid. But his poems are so beautiful because they are especially concerned with sound: ” I wanted to write poetry in the beginning because I had fallen in love with words. … What the words stood for, symbolized, or meant, was of very secondary importance. What mattered was the sound of them …. And these words were, to me, as the notes of bells, the sounds of musical instruments, the noises of wind, sea, and rain, the rattle of milkcarts, the clopping of hooves on cobbles, the fingering of branches on a window pane…”

Here is that poem:

This Bread I Break

This bread I break was once the oat,
This wine upon a foreign tree
Plunged in its fruit;
Man in the day or wind at night
Laid the crops low, broke the grape’s joy.

Once in this wine the summer blood
Knocked in the flesh that decked the vine,
Once in this bread
The oat was merry in the wind;
Man broke the sun, pulled the wind down.

This flesh you break, this blood you let
Make desolation in the vein,
Were oat and grape
Born of the sensual root and sap;
My wine you drink, my bread you snap.

I memorized this poem, I even analyzed it in workshops.  And since I am not so good at remembering verse, my recitations always confused the words wine, blood, flesh, bread, grapes, oat.  Coincidentally, today I was sent another poem of his by email. I leave off with one haunting stanza:

A dark as deep
My love as a round wave
To hide the wolves of sleep
And mask the grave…

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The Annex

Last night, wandering Soho through the unending rain like a forlorn, unwanted cat. At moments, I actually felt triumphant hopping from sidewalk to sidewalk, trying to dodge the rain by walking through small alleyways. Somehow, I miraculously came across Housing Works Cafe on Crosby street and felt such a welcoming sense of relief while entering. There was a meager, 8 o’clock crowd sitting around at the cafe, wandering through the record section. I decided to order a tea and a spinach quiche, sat down and chuckled over the Onion, and whiled away the hour, glad to be in from the rain. 9 o’clock show at the Annex, Doctor Rosen Rosen (Andy), and the whole crew from work was there supporting him. Afterwards, Annie told me about her strange duck dream that caused her to quit smoking cold turkey, about her nightly hallucinations/dreams about smoking, and about her boyfriend. I had a dream about smoking myself through the night. The long, tiresome week finally ending with a restful weekend.