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2002-08-15

Betty Smith (b. Elisabeth Wehner)
12.15.1896 Brooklyn / D. D. 1.17.1972 Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Homesickness

Just now the most amazing thing! Let me tell it right away. Can’t resist, with the computer screen glowing, the push to create something new for the light to shine through!
Round ten o’clock, I was sitting out on the front stoop—
as you’d be surprised how few do on these Park Slope brownstone-lined blocks. Where once whole streets would have gathered on stoops on nights such as these to watch pretty girls sweating in cotton dresses pass by through the childrens’ sidewalk crowds and games; gathered on stoops to whoop at the heat and press cold bottles to foreheads and converse in lost tongues—brogues Italian Brooklynese—now a mooring place for cars lies desolate, dark, and save for the air conditioners quiet—but noisy with them as any arctic desert with wind; while in the windows of a hundred darkened rooms each one’s own aurora borealis flickers.
When a young guy in a white undershirt came along, singing softly to an infant girl in a pink dress whom he carried on his shoulders, her ankles—socked—in hand. The song, a melancholy lullaby I didn’t know, sounded old and mountain-bred and cylinder-recorded—a barely five-note tune. The baby listened; I listened. They slipped out of sight down the sidewalk; still I listened, and listened. All at once I realized
(and this was the amazing thing)
that two notes had remained behind. Caught like a bird in a basket, trapped and buoyed by the ambient thrum, a falling half tone call still issued from the scene through which the singer and his song had long since passed.

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