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concrete island


cuteness itself


concrete island


It’s early summer on the rainforest island where I live and the undergrowth is rustling with intensely kawaii, little black-tailed deer fawns. This one is hiding in one of my bamboo groves.

But I am off to do some work on another island, the *Concrete Island*, which is a ruderal botanical garden on display at the World Urban Festival in Vancouver. People on site can call 1-888-648-0506 with their cellphones to get information about the plants now busy re-colonizing the patch of waste ground that is isolated within the island’s concrete barrier. *Concrete Island* will be the first in a series of cell phone guided botanical tours that I am putting together, to help people navigate through interstitial ecologies of disturbance. It seems no matter how severely we trash the landscape, nature somehow finds a way to reassert itself—in ways that are often surprising.
While I was installing labels on the plants in the *Concrete Island’s* toxic, post-industrial, pit, I was visited by a tiny white-crowned sparrow, which flew down and landed on a Scotch broom branch in front of me.


keep your eye on the sparrow

After that, I started noticing insects in motion all around me: ladybugs, honeybees, bumble bees, parasitic wasps and some tiny thrip-like insect I couldn’t quite identify. They were pollinating and crawling all over the Himalayan blackberry flowers. Since I first visited the *Concrete Island* site back in May, several new plants have arrived, including: tansy, linear-leaf plantain, wild lettuce and fireweed; all brought to the site by wind, or in the droppings of birds. I was amazed at how much the biodiversity has increased in such a short time. In a way, the recolonization process of the *Concrete Island* is similar to what one would see on a newly formed volcanic island, in the middle of the ocean. The only difference is that, instead of water, the *Concrete Island* is surrounded by an ocean of asphalt. I am keeping records of all the new species I see arriving and I will publish a preliminary inventory soon on Maybe I can get *Concrete Island* designated as Vancouver’s smallest park!


banya world


hot city


banya entrance


On my most recent foray into New York, I was introduced to the world of the Russian banya. Despite the heat wave outside, I was amazed to discover that communal sweating, (in a hot, dark room, full of boisterous Russians who are beating each other with birch branches), is oddly refreshing. After it was all over and we went back out into the fetid Brooklyn night, I felt as if my pores had been thoroughly cleansed by an army of mop wielding nano-dwarves. The polluted air no longer felt so nauseatingly oppressive and I floated back onto the subway in a blissful, body stoned stupor. Check out a real banya blog to get a sense of the kind of atmosphere to expect. I can’t wait to buy myself one of those rakish white felt hats for my next banya visit.
I was jolted out of my thermally induced euphoria, when, as we walked uptown from Delancey St., we hit a dark patch of sidewalk under a burned out street light. Blithely carrying on, we noticed that the concrete underfoot was a bit sticky and strewn with a great many shiny, button-like objects. Then it hit me. . . We were walking across hundreds of lustrous, skittering cockroach carapaces, some as big as baby turtles, teeming across a rank slick of heat fermented dumpster juice. It seemed we had gotten a little *too* relaxed during our banya outing, otherwise we might have noticed our predicament a bit earlier. E-e-e-e-w!
Now I’m back on the West Coast and living in a landscape that resembles something right off the front of a Celestial Seasonings tea box I’m getting ready to take another poetry course with the inimitable Susan Musgrave In preparation, I thought I’d better write a quick banya poem:

Ninety five degrees
in Alphabet City
and she says we’re going to
a steam bath
a *steam* bath, I say?
Yeah, a steam bath, she says
a *Russian* steam bath, as if
nationality mattered and a
“schvitz” will cool us down
and we’re already traversing the
shimmering, simmering fields of tar toward
the F train’s burping burrow, my face all sputtery like a
lard candle, the seething distance mis-
aligned, de-
from the tired atomic
the magnets focusing the world
have melted off their mounts, we
across hot dumpster juice
at my ankles even
the ghetto palms
have had
folding feathery leaves
in chlorophytic
from tormenting sun
I see the hole, the sweet sweet hole
of subway deliverance
of fetid dankitude
of stale metal aircon
in the warm electric bosom
of motors
I flop all nauseous and swirly brained
stick to the vinylette like a freshly licked stamp
commemorative Zen, heat stroke edition, anything
could happen to me now, it no longer
matters, I wish this ride would go on for
ever but the alphabet runs out at
and down the stairs we clang clang clang from
the rusty platform that straddles
the street
with its overarching Meccano legs, a giant spider
ate a Taiwanese freighter, scuttled, I think they call it, ready
to pounce on the kids with the forelocks and bowler hats
under a Carboniferous sky
old as amphibians
beneath the sheets of street
heat lightning over Coney Island ozone
tickle of electrified window
screens and
carack carack kablam
the first fat drops
on the pavement, outside
the bath house
awning now
and thank God
Marina mayfly
flits toward us
all mouse ears and
kiss kiss kisses
the dioxin sweetness
of freshly laundered terry cloth, where
birch branch beaten
mounds of
man meat
quiver under white felt
hats, lost in a haze
of smoked fish and watermelon steam
we head for the ovens
and emerge
once more as
shining ingots
pure, revirginated
and ready
to be defiled