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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Woman on the Sidewalk

I’ve been lax with blogging lately, as I’ve been busy with video work and a couple of large-scale, long-term writing projects. But certain incidents in life make me stop and recognize the fragility of our existence, which, in turn, leads to deep rumination. And my ensuing thoughts, once processed, seem suited for this blogging space.

Something happened to me recently that disrupted my daily routine and forced me to pay attention to a person in peril.

While walking home from work Thursday night, heading down South Crouse Avenue between Harrison and Madison streets, I came across an African-American woman in her thirties sprawled out on the sidewalk in front of me, with her iPhone lying next her to body and a plastic Dunkin’ Donuts cup and ice cubes scattered nearby.

Dunkin’ Donuts cup and straw on the sidewalk (not staged or rearranged).

When I first noticed her figure in the distance, I thought it was a dummy or some type of debris, like a cardboard box. But her details sharpened as I approached her. She was dressed in a Dunkin’ Donuts uniform with a name tag that read “Natasha,” and she was positioned on her back, looking up at the darkening sky dotted with crows swooping overhead. Rush hour traffic sped along Harrison Street toward downtown and the onramp to I-81.

While it’s not usual to encounter people asking for money in the area surrounding Syracuse University, something about the woman told me she was not a panhandler or someone faking an illness to get attention. I surmised she had just finished her shift at Dunkin’ Donuts and was walking down the hill to catch a bus or continue on foot the rest of the way home. I bent over her body as I surveyed the scene. The woman’s glazed eyes stared back at me, and she appeared disoriented.

I said, “Mam are you OK? Did you fall? Are you hurt?” She was unable to respond with a complete sentence. “What?” she asked.

“Mam, why are you on the sidewalk?” She continued to hold a frightened expression on her face, but she did not say anything else. I said, “I’m gonna call someone for you.” I started to dial 911 as a man with a mustache and wearing a tan coat and an orange baseball cap walked across South Crouse Avenue toward us. “Are you calling an ambulance?” he asked as I pressed my cellphone to my ear so I could hear the operator above the traffic noise.

A female 911 operator took my call. “Nine-one-one, what’s your location?” she asked.

“South Crouse between Harrison and Madison.”

“OK, what’s going on?”

I relayed the details of my encounter with the woman on the sidewalk.

And the woman asked me a flurry of questions. “Does she appear injured? Is she breathing? Is she conscious? Is she intoxicated? Can you ask her her name and whether she has a medical condition?”

I did my best to get the answers the operator sought. The other man also tried to talk to Natasha. “Mam, what happened? Why are you on the sidewalk?” he asked.

Natasha could not vocalize any responses, and she just looked at us with her dark, glassy eyes. I don’t think she was aware of the situation or knew what had happened to her.

The man said he had to leave to “go to a founders dinner.” He crossed the street and I lost sight of his figure. The 911 operator said the ambulance was on the way, and a short time later, with sirens blaring, it pulled to the curb along Madison Street. Two young EMTs, one male and one female, hopped out of the ambulance and wheeled a gurney up South Crouse Avenue toward the woman.

“What happened?” the man asked. I told him I had found the woman on the sidewalk. “OK,” he said, “we got it.”

And with that, I left. I said a Hail Mary for Natasha, praying the paramedics would get her to the hospital quickly and doctors would determine what was wrong with her.

A passing thought also tickled my brain. I thought it would be nice to work in some capacity where I could help people on a daily basis, as opposed to simply pursuing my own career goals of a higher salary and a more prestigious position.

I also felt proud of myself for interceding on Natasha’s behalf. I say this not because I consider myself a humanitarian or a Good Samaritan, but because the incident made me realize how vulnerable humans are and how easy it would have been for me to turn away from the figure on the sidewalk and walk by the woman, deciding not to get involved.

I believe we are only as capable as our bodies allow us to be. And as someone who suffers from hypopituitarism, hypokalemia (low potassium), diabetes insipidus and hyponatremia (low sodium), I decided to stop and render aid to Natasha because other people have helped me in the past when my potassium dropped or my sodium level plummeted to a dangerous mark, below 120 (normal range 133-145). I’ve passed out before and also became weak, dazed and disoriented. And people could have perceived that I was drunk or high on drugs. Instead they helped me and I got the medical treatment I needed.

Dunkin' Donuts cup on the sidewalk (not staged or rearranged).

Dunkin’ Donuts cup on the sidewalk (not staged or rearranged).

The following morning I walked to work up South Crouse Avenue toward the SU campus. Natasha’s Dunkin’ Donuts cup was still lying on the sidewalk, and I hoped by now she had been given some intravenous fluids at Upstate or at another area hospital and was either resting comfortably in a hospital bed or had been discharged. I also hoped I would see her on her feet behind the counter the next time I stopped to get coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts.

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