Walking Commuter Notes

MORNING

I walk to work almost every morning—following East Genesee Street toward downtown Syracuse. Before I leave my apartment building, I usually hang out with my wife Pam and son Colin while they wait for Colin’s school bus to arrive.

Today, underneath a gray sky spitting drizzle, Colin entertains himself by jumping up and down, flapping his hands and pulling his Paw Patrol mask down around his chin.

“Ah, put up your mask when you go on the bus and when you’re inside school,” Pam tells him. He listens and pulls up his mask. Colin is in kindergarten, and he has autism.

He’s dressed in sweatpants and a blue hooded sweat jacket. A maroon and navy blue Fila book bag—packed with the crunchy snacks he likes to eat—is slung over his shoulder.

When it’s time for me to break away, I remove my mask and plaster his face with a couple of quick kisses. Pam then says to Colin, “Ah, say goodbye to daddy.” When his eyes remain cast elsewhere, she holds his face gently and points it in my direction. She holds his hand and helps him to wave. “Come on now. Say bye-bye.”

“Bye-bye daddy,” he says with a clipped delivery.

“Good job,” Pam says.

I start walking on the sidewalk along Genesee, turning my head and waving toward my family, their figures looking tiny while standing under the green awning of the tan, brick building. I see his bus turning onto Genesee Street, and I pray that Colin will climb aboard safely, find his seat up front and remain in place while the bus accelerates.

Then a thought pops into my head. I don’t invite it, but it emerges anyway.

I think: This could be the last time I ever see my wife and son. I realize I am not invincible, that tragedy could strike at any moment and my loved ones could be taken away in an instant.

I look up to the clouds and try to shake the dark thought from my mind, turning my attention to work-related tasks I need to complete.

AFTERNOON

In the late afternoon, I leave the Nancy Cantor Warehouse in downtown Syracuse, walking in a steady rain along Washington Street. I cross State Street and then walk toward Fayette Street. I pass by a standpipe, and I continue on my way. But then I remember Fountain, the ready-made sculpture of a urinal by French artist Marcel Duchamp.

Marcel Duchamp’s 1917 sculpture Fountain.

I backtrack, pull out my iPhone and snap a few pictures—inspired by Duchamp’s iconic still life artwork.

According to Merriam-Webster, a standpipe is a “high vertical pipe or reservoir that is used to secure a uniform pressure in a water-supply system.” I’ve seen the term before, but I never knew the meaning. But I looked it up online as soon as I got home.

Syracuse Standpipe. Photo by Francis DiClemente.

And I guess that’s the beauty of a walking commute in a city—if you pay attention to your surroundings, you can discover things that other people might miss. It takes practice to heighten your senses and elevate your awareness. But as an urban explorer, if I am willing to pay close attention, it seems the universe is willing to reward me with satisfying visual stimuli. In my case, it makes the everyday extraordinary and the mundane magical (forgive the alliteration).

Here are some recent photos from my walking commute:

Squirrel on telephone pole. Photo by Francis DiClemente.

Chair tipped over. Photo by Francis DiClemente.

Fountain. Photo by Francis DiClemente.

Alley. Photo by Francis DiClemente.

University Block Building. Photo by Francis DiClemente.

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Pigeon on the Sidewalk

I saw a dead pigeon on the sidewalk while walking to work yesterday. I moved around it, heading along Fayette Street toward Salina. But I decided to turn around and come back to the scene and observe the dead bird.

Dead pigeon on the sidewalk. Photo by Francis DiClemente.

I also snapped a picture—my motivation being I wanted to capture an image of the lifeless form as a reminder to myself that my time on earth is limited, that death awaits me. We can’t escape mortality. In one way or another, we all become pigeons splayed on the sidewalk. And while it’s a sobering thought, it helps me to value the life I get to live today.

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Life is an Ice Cream Truck Parked on the Street

While waiting for the CVS store to open this morning, I saw a Perry’s Ice Cream truck parked on the side of the street. The wording on the side of the truck read, “LIFE IS A BOWL OF PERRY’S ICE CREAM.”

Ice cream truck. Photo by Francis DiClemente.

The statement seemed like an invitation, or a conversation starter.

In my head I took the first two words— LIFE IS—and filled in the blanks. The result is my stream-of-consciousness list:

Life is blissful.
Life is finite.
Life is fleeting.
Life is futile.
Life is wonderful.
Life is hysterical.
Life is sorrowful.
Life is bland.
Life is fine.
Life is OK, sometimes.
Life is full of laughs.
Life is a pain in the ass.
Life is what you make it.
Life is all we’ve got.
Life is a gift we’re given.
Life is something we take for granted.

How would you fill in the blanks?

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Been Away Too Long

I’ve been so tied up with work, family and long-range creative projects that I have neglected this blog for far too long. I haven’t posted anything since January—not that anyone is missing my content.

But during my Saturday morning jog/walk in downtown Syracuse, I snapped a photo and composed a short poem. To me both represent the ephemeral nature of life. If I had not stopped running on the sidewalk to take the picture or pull out my mini notebook and jot down the poem, the image and words would have been lost.

The sun would have shifted or shadows would have altered the light hitting the buildings and the words would have escaped my mind. A good reason to always carry a smartphone, a pen and a notebook. You never know when inspiration will strike.

Morning reflection. A George Costanza pinkish hue. Photo by Francis DiClemente.

Giving Up Admission

I can’t keep
it together.

I don’t have
the strength
to carry on.

Can I let go
and fall into
your arms?

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Instagram Poems

I am doing a final edit on my next poetry manuscript, entitled Outward Arrangements, as I prepare for self-publishing. It’s a full-length collection of narrative, philosophical and observational poems written in free-verse style.

Several poems in one section of the book originated as the text in Instagram posts. All of them are short, and the images, scenes and words came to me as I walked in my city of Syracuse prior to the pandemic.

During the month of December, I thought it would be fun to share some of the poems and the photographs that inspired them. The first image points to a mystery I encountered while jogging one day.

Baby Stroller on Sidewalk. Photo by Francis DiClemente.

Baby Stroller on the Sidewalk

A stroller parked
on the sidewalk.

No parent present.
No wailing heard.

Just a question
Without an answer:
Where did the baby go?

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Message on the Sidewalk

While walking this morning, I found this message spray-painted on the sidewalk in front of Grace Episcopal Church on Madison Street: “Get Kate out the hutchings basement.” The “hutchings” refers to The Hutchings Psychiatric Center, a mental health center in Syracuse operated by New York State.

The missive was signed by a woman (name withheld), and the statement produced a flurry of images and questions in my mind. Who is Kate and what is her condition? I pictured an exhausted woman confined in a straitjacket in the basement of the facility at 620 Madison Street. I felt empathy not only for Kate, but also for the woman who wrote the message. What did she expect to achieve by spray-painting her note on the ground? Was she so desperate that she hoped God would look down from above and intervene on behalf of Kate?

I don’t know the fate of the two women, but the discovery of the message made me more aware of people struggling with mental health issues and how these conditions can affect anyone. And this blog post is an attempt to send some positive thoughts to Kate and her friend.

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Sidewalk Cutoff

While walking home along East Genesee Street in Syracuse, I encounter a man seated a bus stop located between Phoebe’s restaurant and South Crouse Avenue.

He has long, curly black hair, bronze skin and he’s dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, with a roll of flesh hanging over his waist.

He spots me as I stride toward him on the sidewalk, then flicks his fingers in a “come hither” motion. “Hey buddy, come here, can I ask you a question?”

I cut him off right away. “I don’t have any money,” I say and keep walking.

And I hear him say, the words trailing behind me, “How’d ya know what I was gonna ask you?”

And as I continue walking, I realize he’s right. I feel guilty about not giving him the chance to ask his question. In my defense, he caught me off guard and spooked me with the quick motion of his hands. But I could have stopped, stood at a distance from him and listened to what he had to say.

 

 

 

 

 

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Bag in the Breeze

Photo by Kate Ter Haar (via Flickr).

Bag in the Breeze

Thursday morning, 9:47 a.m.
White airy clouds
painted against a pale blue sky.
Whipping sounds like
baseball cards spinning in bicycle spokes
call out to pedestrians
moving on the salt-crusted sidewalk.
A medical helicopter zips overhead.
You look up as it flies out of sight.
And with your head still raised,
you spot a plastic shopping bag
tangled on a leafless branch,
stuck at the top of a tree,
flapping in the breeze.
The bag waves its white flag
in an overture of surrender,
hinting at submission to the chill of winter,
while struggling to break loose,
straining to be released,
and waiting for a new wind to set it free.

©2017 Francis DiClemente
(Sidewalk Stories, Kelsay Books)

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Winter Walk

Winter Walk

It takes one fall
on the icy sidewalk
for your life to be ruined.
That’s right, just one tumble—
arms flailing,
legs scissoring in the air,
back parallel to the ground,
eyes looking up at a gray sky
unable to intervene—
in a brief suspended
moment before wham—
skull meets ground and blackness ensues.
Traumatic brain injury follows,
and you slip into a coma.
Your family huddles bedside,
waiting for you to rouse,
to wake up and rejoin the living,
like a grizzly bear stepping out
of its den after hibernation.
If you do come out of it
with some brain activity intact,
you may be a shell—withering
in a long-term nursing home.
And while you exist inside,
the costs mount for your family,
and the world outside your window
drags on, unaware of your predicament.
All this because some ice tripped you up.
So don’t be surprised if you see me
walking gingerly on the
glassy surface of the sidewalk,
digging my heels into a
pile of rock salt near the curb,
spreading it around on my soles,
strapping on a pair of
Yaktrax over my boots,
or cutting across the snow-covered lawns.
I guess I don’t mind dying,
or being knocked unconscious,
but I would feel awfully foolish
if a patch of frozen moisture does me in.

Sidewalk Stories (Kelsay Books, 2017)

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