by Hannah Frishberg
I slept through America on a Greyhound Bus and woke up for cities I know only from 40-year-old films I’d watch on VHS tapes in my grandma’s basement, but there’s miles and miles of track between me and that musky floral plastic wrapped living room couch as thick with dust as these woods are thick with trees and cabins and boys named Washington (I imagine)
Silos round as this planet, green as algae, companies named after oceans now only so much rubble in these soupy towns churning out noodles, and I remember where I am from people are as complicated as telephone wires but here everything is muffled by moss and cars crawl by like giant ants on the freeway, crawling across the horizon as I steam through America
I stare until my vision goes fuzzy and picture Iroquois between the grass, which only lives to grow, whispering the secrets of the soil to me through dirty plate glass windows, the backside of billboards in Baltimore, this town of broken glass and baseball, smoke stacks and advertisements for things gone long before I came
Boxcars stacked like Legos, these homes are shanties, no one lives here, and you’re a million times my senior, Baltimore, but I want to kiss each broken shard of your glass till my bloody lips are a map of your windows, and be as complacent in my own decay
These cities are islands of humanity amidst the trackside wilderness, floating like the gardens of Babylon, industrial relics alight in a sea of leaves and Little League and cherry blossoms every few miles among the parked cars and baggage, among the endless tracks and train cars who alone have seen the edges of America
Land of radio towers, as vast and quiet as the open sky, endless attics and fields of green and a water tower in the distance! Blooming big and blue! A truck depot! And the clouds seem bigger. Buildings standing on three legs with little boys on top blowing kisses to the setting sun, and the boy sitting next to me, fast asleep
We’re almost there, and I can see the border of summer is clouded by rain and floating petals
sneezed into the atmosphere, in front of me like a mirage waving back as we slow down for the Last Stop All Passengers Out.
MEDICAL RELEASE: On 3-11-2004, at approximately 3:45 AM, personnel from the Kings County Emergency Care Center responded to a report of uncontrollable dancing in front of a pharmacy at 4752 Cropsey Avenue. A small crowd had gathered to watch a young woman, possessed with what was posthumously diagnosed as terminal Boogie Fever, dance her life away in the middle of the street. She’d been there for hours, one woman said, performing every Latin American dance in alphabetical order, except for when an elderly gentleman asked to mambo even though she’d only just finished the bomba. She hasn’t said a word, one boy noted, but 27 separate prescriptions have fallen from her coat pocket. Tony can’t stop tapping I think it’s contagious, a lady shrieked, corralling her children away from the scene. Witnesses verify that, in the month of February alone, the ailing female had been seen waltzing in Westchester, cha-chaing in Chinatown, swinging in Sunnyside, Lindy Hopping in Little Neck, and twerking in Tribeca. In Ozone Park, she remained on point for two weeks until her nails peeled up and rats gnawed off her toes. Two pre-med students on Staten Island measured her heart beats with a snare drum and approximated that she spun at the same rate as the world. Construction workers in Throggs Neck observed that neither thunderclaps nor wrecking balls made her miss a beat, and thus theorized she was being rocked by the City itself. It was at 5:32 AM (sunrise, exactly) that she danced herself to death, sporadic fireworks erupting from her ears as she tripped on cement in the middle of a dougie and bled out through her feet. Upon autopsy, no space could be found between the bruises on her calves, and it was discovered her brain had over oxidized on street lights. Her insides were a nasty bloody failure, her ribcage in pieces, her heart in shreds, her mind in shards. The body was too broken to be buried; instead it was cremated. At the exact moment the ashes were released into the Hudson, 36 different FM radio broadcasts across the Tri-state area were interrupted by a whispered:
Oh baby, do you wanna dance?
This Social Generation
I. Children in the time of technological revolution,
We are united in our conformity
To the blue paneled man.
We congregate on this combat zone of words,
Of suicide notes, soul-searchers, and virtual love,
To sacrifice our time
In exchange for pixelated satisfaction.
We send our thoughts and feelings out to sea
On emoticon-ships and status updates,
Trusting the world will see
About our wants and whims.
A generation lost online,
Individual personalities somewhat discernable
Between the crotch shots and the Photoshop,
The likes and the favorites,
Not flesh and blood but binary code
And computer innards.
Deleting loneliness by logging in,
The world grows larger
By becoming small enough to understand.
The exponential growth of pixels
The cancerous growth of machines
Our lives morph to fit into computer screens.
Wasting time, crossing space
The fabric of emotion unthreading into shapes.
We are natives to this electronic existence,
Fluent in its language.
We translate our dreams, translate our lives,
And feed them to the void.
II. On all fours,
The night falls back out of our mouths
As the world is filtered into colored light
And the human body decomposes into textured shapes.
Piss and blood and laughter
And that perpetual bassline
All surge and ebb with the beat of our healthy hearts.
Only we appreciate the many tiered flavor
Of a 3AM Mickey D’s cheeseburger,
The perfect smear
Of morning-after eyeliner,
The taste of a night shared with a smoker.
We treasure a day’s quirks
And never look at the bigger picture.
And though the lyrics don’t make sense
We respond to that bassline
Always the bassline
Trying to thrash out the music
Drink out the music
Forget the music,
God is long gone,
Heaven along with him,
And the static electricity in our bodies
Is far greater than any force in hell.
We are draped in shadows
And the night is cheering us on,
The chemicals in what we do so much stronger
Than the chemicals in what we are.
We are animals
Looking for the warmth of a whisper
The warmth of a body
With whom to share a cigarette
With whom to share these sunless hours
With whom to share this long winter.
Because it is cold
And snow is much softer
When there are two bodies in a nest.
Hannah Frishberg is a freelance writer and photographer whose work has previously appeared in the Huffington Post, Gothamist, Narratively, Curbed, Atlas Obscura, and Urban Omnibus, among others. She is a fourth generation Brooklynite and is working on a book about the Gowanus Batcave.