LES 1970 – 1985

For Margarets’s prompt for Day 14 of NAPOWRIMO.  Write about a street in a city where you like to stroll.  I went back to my wild days with my Cousin Billy with whom I went to Woodstock and with whom I later lived the dangerous life in the mid-70’s to mid 80’s.  She went to Brooklyn recently for her son’s wedding and was inspired.  LES is localese for LOWER EAST SIDE: Brooklyn, Bronx, Harlem. The song by Johnny Thunders is true, alas.

LES 1981

LES 1970 – 1985
“I missed all the great art at the time. I came from heroin, and I came for music. But other than that, I didn’t live here. But man, a lot of people didn’t make it, and I remember, I guess around 1980, it was like, ‘Something was happening and no one knows what it is.’” Anthony Bourdain

“You can’t put your arms around a memory” Johnny Thunders 1978

my cousin Billy and I drifted down to LES
from Montclair NJ and Durham NC.
I wonder that we made it out alive.
dangerous, smelling of raw sewage
sex and dope.
fires fueled by arson,
hostility fired by cops,
in places between buildings, in holes
the size of a car we bought our dope –
we smoked snorted shot it up.
the people had a lean and hungry look.
it’s a wonder we made it out alive.
we spent the night in the apartments of
strangers and all we had to do was
to be cool. be cool man.
sex pistols, joe strummer,
Deborah harry, cro mags,
the Ramones – sheena’s a punk rocker…
the music exploded in our ears
and we held each other up as the crowds held us up.
poetry art movies films all new and outrageous.
I learned about Dylan Thomas from some punk.
it is a wonder we made it out alive.
the summers were our reward for being good
during the rest of the year.
andy Warhol was new
people slept passed out died on the sidewalks.
now I walk there and it is like walking
among the land of ghosts.
we passed over the bridge into LES,
crossing the river styx
we crossed by over the river of lethe.
different now.
it’s a miracle we made it out alive.
President Ford said he would not bail out NYC
when it was bankrupt.
NY responded: Ford Drop Dead

LES Alphabet City 1975

19 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. coalblack
    Apr 12, 2019 @ 17:20:18

    Sorry, what is LES? I’m surprised any of us survived the 70s, but at least you had good music. I was overseas in the mid 70s and all i ever got to hear was disco and Peter Frampton. I’ll never get “Love Roller Coaster” out of my head. :-/


    • kanzensakura
      Apr 12, 2019 @ 18:25:21

      LES. Lower East Side…brooklen, Bronx, Harlem

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    • kanzensakura
      Apr 12, 2019 @ 18:41:01

      I liked disco. I hung out in the gay bars before it became popular among the white folks and the straight peeps. I hated the electronic euro trash stuff.

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  2. Kerry
    Apr 14, 2019 @ 02:30:50

    This reads like a novel or monologue, I like the references to mythology. Myths are relevant when you have experienced your own rites of passage.


    • kanzensakura
      Apr 14, 2019 @ 02:52:22

      My biographical poems are all of them monologues I share with the reader. I have no children to tell and my husband is bored. My poor cousin Billy died of. Lung cancer this past August.

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      • Cara Hartley
        Apr 14, 2019 @ 03:31:17

        I’m sorry for your loss. One of my cousins committed suicide 15 years ago. Another cousin who is close to my age is a severe alcoholic who exhibits signs of wet brain syndrome. Her father was also a severe alcoholic and very abusive. He molested his daughters and nieces and beat the hell out of my aunt (RIP).


  3. Anonymous
    Apr 14, 2019 @ 02:54:12

    Whew… so vivid. I can only imagine returning after all that – ghosts for sure! Excellent poetic rendering…


  4. Margaret Elizabeth Bednar
    Apr 14, 2019 @ 02:54:47

    Anonymous above is me…


  5. Cara Hartley
    Apr 14, 2019 @ 03:26:28

    I was 12 years old in 1977. I started smoking pot and drinking. I’m amazed that I survived the 70’s and 80’s. I self-medicated a lot up until the point when I got pregnant in 1989. Once my son stopped nursing, I started drinking again. I was never an alcoholic because I could go without it for days and even weeks, but when I got hold of it, I put it away. That stopped in my 40’s because I could no longer tolerate it.
    I’m kind of amazed that any of us survived!


  6. kim881
    Apr 14, 2019 @ 04:28:38

    I visited New York many years ago but we stayed in Manhattan and I never went to the Lower East Side, although my husband has been since. As you know, Toni, I love your autobiographical poems and this one reminds me of Patti Smith’s writing (I love her!). I like the repetition of ‘it’s a wonder we made it out alive’.


  7. sanaarizvi
    Apr 14, 2019 @ 05:17:09

    This is absolutely vivid and poignant, Toni! It has a cinematic feeling to it .. and can very well be visualized by the reader.. powerful in its tone and imagery! ❤️


  8. Sherry Blue sky
    Apr 14, 2019 @ 07:01:42

    It is a wonder you made it out alive. Our nearest big city, Vancouver, has a desperate lower east side too, people die on the streets every day from the Fentanyl lacing the drugs. You captured the grit well in this poem.


  9. Rosemary Nissen-Wade
    Apr 14, 2019 @ 09:09:55

    You make it so real and immediate. The authenticity is palpable. I’m glad you made it out alive! (I’m glad I did too – from a slightly earlier era, in a different city in a different country.)


  10. Charmed Chaos
    Apr 14, 2019 @ 09:58:25

    What a powerful write depicting that time Toni.


  11. L C Folks
    Apr 14, 2019 @ 13:25:36

    Wow, you describe this time so vividly, easily envisioned by the reader as an extraordinary space in your life. As many have said, it is a wonder some of us got out alive from our 60’s adventures,,,


  12. Susie Clevenger
    Apr 14, 2019 @ 19:00:18

    What a story. It is powerful, real, and the images slap you with moments from history. We made it through the 70’s. So worried about the times we’re living now.


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