Highfalutin’ – May 2011

The Gallup-Manhattan Overpass

by Gabriel J. Kruis

The joy of warm weather in New York for me is the bike ride. I mark the seasons by whether or not I can saddle up my bright blue bicycle, strap on my helmet, and ride. Different from the rough off-road romps of a New Mexico ride – where if you’re alone out there, you’re alone – when I’m chugging through Brooklyn and on into Manhattan it’s like being a smaller dinosaur in a dino-stampede. Ducking and dodging around cars, weaving past traffic jams, taking detours down unknown streets. The adventure of living in New York is mirrored in the task of navigating it. It takes concentration, initiative – you have to remain alert – but when you get going you can really fly down those avenues and over those bridges.

As I’ve mentioned in a past article, that feeling of moving through the city impresses me because I feel like I have control of the huge city. The bike makes all things permeable – I pass alongside yellow cabs, rumbling semis, bass-bouncing SUVs, all the bored drivers blank-eyed at lights. I shoot out of traffic and through parks, and at nights when the streets are empty and the view is clear – after a pause and a glance both ways – I rush through reds, too. But never is this sense of freedom more real than when on the bridges.

At sunset, at night, at dawn, these are my favorite times to take the bridges. The fog-scalded city glowing through the haze like a gob of TV snow, great and sleepless. A dozen planes flying in the pink light above the Hudson River – the same scene repeated beautifully dawn to dawn, dusk to dusk.

Biking knits my memories of this city together, stitches in new parts of the metropolis. And the bridges are the threads that pull all of these memories together, funneling me back home.

A few weeks ago I biked up to Hunter College to visit a class, as I’ll be attending the school next year, getting a Master of Fine Arts degree in poetry. This time I took a route I’d never taken before, crossed a bridge I didn’t know – an 8-mile bike ride through the shambles of industrial Queens, over the Queensboro bridge, up to 68th Street, astride Central Park.

The thing about taking new routes to new places is that the first time always makes you feel small again. The moments you get lost. The moments where the buildings loom around you.

It makes the metaphor too easy.

Last month Benny left New York. Middle school, high school, college, and New York. We’ve seen a lot together and I miss him. He was like the Miyamura Bridge linking me back home.

Of course, I’ve still got Eli to reminisce with. Eli who still understands when I say, “Izzit?”  Who, half the time, I slip into Rez accents with. But both of our futures are here. Eli’s going to law school, has a lawyering job lined up already when he’s done. And me, I’ve gotten into a school and, at least for the next two years, my bridges are going to span the East River and not the illustrious Perky.

A month ago I was back home, in Gallup, when I found out I had gotten into school. Knowing Benny was leaving had left me feeling shadowy about my future in New York; coming back to Gallup made me nostalgic.

When I told my parents I got into Hunter to study poetry an obvious gap yawned between us. They had never read or heard any of my poetry. Didn’t read anyone else’s either. My future was a future they didn’t understand. So, after dinner one night we sat down and read. My mom read one of my poems out loud to all of us.

A poem about her, her and my father and me in her belly. About him working in the uranium mines near Gallup and a sermon he’d preached on his first Easter as a minister.Highfalutin' Gabriel J. Kruis

Hearing her read my poetry bridged a gap for my mom and dad. I think they understood why I’d chosen the path I’m on. But it bridged a gap for me, too. I knew why I wrote. Why, even with Benny gone, I had to stay in New York. Traveling at parallel speeds, the age of my mother’s voice was evened out by the great mass of days that had passed for both of us since she first cracked a book with me on her lap. It felt ageless.

In that poem was my life. The foot of a bridge: New Mexico. Gallup. Her voice – and the voice of my dad from the pulpit – these were the cables and I-beams that suspend the bridge, allowing it to reach without limit into a fog, toward unknown shores.

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