Zen Blinks

by Bart Plantenga

      ny sin cover small


These Unloaded Camera Snapshots were launched as an exercise to document the “snapshots” of everyday life in Paris. & continued upon my return to NYC. & continued upon my moving to Amsterdam. The exercise consisted of “taking” 1 “snapshot” per day. These zen blinks, pop flashes, heated moments, & satori-sloshed sidewalk haikus re-pollinated my existence with the fecund details of the quotidian. Here is a sampling.

1. Shelf Full of Ashes

The canister containing the cremated remains of his friend
was heavier than I thought it’d be. The ashes coarser too,
not at all like face powder. “Rosehill suggests a more
substantial urn for permanent preservation.” “Naaa!” YS
retorted, “He’d’ve wanted it this way, like a can of soup. Just
add water.” Then he showed us the shelf over his bed.
Reserved for the canned ashes of future dead friends. “& 1
day the shelf’ll get so heavy, it’ll come down off the wall & kill
me, an avalanche of my friends’ ashes & someone’ll put a
can o’ me on their shelf.”

3. The Utility of Poetry

JP was always busy escaping the very words that were
bothering him as they lit the way to something more
frightening. Ah, go ahead, call it revelation. He & I had the
mixed [mis]fortune of appearing in “The Year Of The Poet II”
in Downtown. I was walking up 1st Avenue a few days after
his issue hit the newsstands & spotted a woman following
the butt of her squatting, indecisive mutt, ready to shove a
newspaper under him to catch what was to be 1 of those
classic dog turd swirls, which instantly remind you of Dairy
Queen in the 1970s. I stopped to stare—usually not a smart
thing to do—unless you show affection for her mutt. & that I
did & saw that the very page of Downtown she had used was
indeed JP’s & there was his name in bold 30-point type right
next to the dog turd swirl held in a kind of makeshift
crumpled page tureen that she places carefully atop the
overflowing mound of garbage in the twisted, rusted, city

9. Safe Sex of the Passersby

We pass 1 another with umbrellas open. Mine grazed hers—
spoke into nylon—& hers grazed mine—spoke into nylon.
This interaction causes our 2 umbrellas to spin in, & almost
right out of, our hands like gears that mesh for just that 1
ecstatic instant. The torque & tremble of the handle
represents her effect on me. I glance over my shoulder at
her glance darting over her shoulder. The sensation of
recognition like the pang of regret of something that could’ve
been, or like discovering an old photo of an unconsummated
love in a racy novel, as we each head into our own perilous
shimmering intersections along 5th Avenue, is palpable
although difficult to describe.

30. Fear Curdles Imagination

Walking home from the reading, I feel that the glamour of the
Fez, with its gold curtains & marbleized café tables has
enlarged us beyond anything our words ever could. I
embraced the 1 compliment—“I liked your piece”—I receive
that evening like you would a stuffed animal saved from a
dank basement. I repeat it over & over to maintain my high
but accidentally walk right up the back of a woman under the
dark Brooklyn trees. I, as this someone out of nowhere, who
has startled her can feel her pangs of vigilance, that gastric
leap of intestine into reverie, that quick full-eyed glance over
the shoulder, that wobble & thump! of slate sidewalk, that
faint tic of perpetual apprehension that releases gallons of
acidic epinephrine into our systems to eat away at our most
hopeful organs & will certainly prevent any niceties from
passing across her lips.

33. Slit Wistful Wrist

The man sits cross-legged on the sidewalk, corner of St.
Marks & 2nd Ave., predicting “In Watermelon Sugar” in the
3rd at Aqueduct, as if he is an extra in a crazy film they forgot
to shoot. He claims to be a war vet—who doesn’t these
days?! Not that it gets you much—& then turns & lifts his
wrists to reveal 2 bloody, upturned sneers, offerings for us to
inspect as 1 might a nosegay before a prom. The blood
oozes down his arms in rivulets rippling to the beat of his
racing pulse. I imagine him sitting next to me in Mr. Kenney’s
8th-grade Geography class, tracing the long slender coast of
Chile. Is this what has become of meditation? Of contrition?
The G.I. Bill? Humility & enterprise? No 1 drops coins into
his cup because they prefer a beer to a lost cause like
betting on a 3-legged racehorse named “In Watermelon

51. Black Green Blue

This black girl in green Doc Martins & a blue streak darting
across her hair is so beautiful on the J that you stand there
staring without looking like you’re staring while you try to
figure out a way to make eye contact all the same. The kind
of eye contact that’s like 2 marbles glancing off 1 another
ever so slightly. You formulate 100 ways to say as much
without coming on like a lech. The subway doors opened, I
thought now: If I were a writer I’d write a novel about this.
The subway doors close. Just as I realize I’ve missed my
stop she drops her can of mace & smiles. I smile back; think
of a quick rhyme: a can o mace / or my place / one’s a
shortcut to outer space…

87. Synchro-Smell-I-City

I was dutifully transcribing words from notebook to type,
wondering exactly who was in the employ of what. Just as I
was typing the words, “I could almost smell,” Van Morrison
[“T.B. Sheets”] on a cheap white boombox sings: “I could
almost smell…” This instant of synchronicity pulls me away
from the words that have already usurped more power than I
am willing to admit by evading all meaning. I call it spooky
synchronicity & it’s as close as I come to awe or faith. I
remember once rescuing the line “It allows a tree to be a
waterfall” from an old discarded poem. Years later, in John
Updike’s Rabbit Run I read: “God doesn’t want a tree to be a

89. Her Own Tea Ceremony

I watch MB do the laundry, meticulously folding each item on
the laundromat table. I am not allowed to fold any of her
things because my mind has not yet fully appreciated the
zen-like aspects of perfected folding & clean symmetry. I
have to think this is her own version of a Japanese Tea
Ceremony. On the walk home with our arms full of perfect,
geometrically folded laundry I feel like we are delivering
laundry to the King of Siam or Prussia or something . . . In any
case, I am quite a bit calmer now that she has at least
allowed me to participate in the ritual.

94. Snake Off Liquor

KAʼs python had babies & so we have to cab down to the pet
store with a snarl of baby snakes in a flimsy cardboard box.
The guy is set to buy all 9 but she falls in love with 1 of them.
& so we wander the Lower Eastside with a snake crawling
between her fingers. She decides to stuff it down the front of
her blouse— it may be too cool for her—as we search for a
serpent-friendly restaurant. At Bowery & 3rd, we come upon 2
jolly homeless fellows. &, as we pass, the snake pops its
head out of her blouse, wiggling in her cleavage, whereupon
1 of the homeless guys exclaims, “Oh, my GOD, Iʼm drunk
but I know I just seen a snake crawling up outta her shirt.
Sheʼs beautiful but sheʼs got snakes crawlinʼ outta her. Itʼs
enough to put you off likker.” Right then & there, she
christened the snake “Rahu, Mayaʼs naughty child,
legendary master of deception who converts enemies into

123. Bum on Wheels

He’s got wheels, a recuperated wheelchair, but he’s going
nowhere fast. He rattles the few stray coins in his coffee cup
with the irony of the book Think & Become Rich on his lap
not at all escaping him I’m sure. “All the churches they
fenced off to protect the Lord from the likes of us.” Indeed
the church had installed thick gates with fat locks to keep the
homeless from seeking refuge there. “They say 1 church
burned its pews to keep the homeless warm. I don’t know
this church. You know it?” “No, sorry.” The sign said
Welcome to the ****** ****** Church & I had only ever visited
churches as museums. I put a quarter in his cup with a
certain flair to make sure everyone knew. & because he
gives BB a smile that reminds her of her father, she stuffs a
dollar bill in his cup.

305. Awkward Smile

Some day, when she is a famous fashion consultant, she will
look back with clueless bemusement at the photo of her as a
young Catholic girl, taped to the inside of the window of the
laundromat run by her mother. Standing there, age 11,
wearing 2 crosses just in case, 1 looking like she had glued
Jujubes to it, the other encrusted with plastic jewels. In pink
sweatshirt, yellow shorts, & strange Tweetie Pie sneakers.
Her crooked half smile revealing grey braces & red rubber
bands. & I have 100 photos of myself that match this 1. You
study them & see where you are in these photos during that
awkward period when you & your body are 2 separate
beings & you are trying to dress yourself in the clothes that
your parents are still insisting you should be wearing, having
totally ignored the fact that youʼre almost a pre-teen.

338. Stolen Napkin of Some Worth

We are in 1 of those generic feeling pizzerias around NYU. It
may have been Pizza Piazza & we are meeting more
strangers than I can process. You know, the kind you strike
up an impassioned conversation with & make promises for
future get-togethers & then never see again. I feel sorry for
the red-haired harpist RA because she is like some
depressed angel you meet in the better neighborhoods of
heaven, with an ethereal glimmering face about to break.
Anyway, no 1 wants to become even more depressed than
they already are, fall into her hole, her dilemma, her
misgivings & so no one pays her any mind. & so I touch her
hands: “So these are the hands that stroke the harp.” She
pulls her hand away to wring her cloth napkin under the table
& while staring down at it she surreptitiously slides her hand
back into my hand, saying only: “I like these napkins.” When
we are outside later about to depart & disperse I tell CB &
friends: “I’ll catch up later.” I run up to where RA is walking
briskly to catch the L at Union Square & I hand her the folded
napkin. She looks right into my face like how perspective
tenants might walk around an apartment, gaze out the
windows—where will the bed go—before signing a contract.
A barely audible “thank you” was all she could muster as
tears well up in her eyes.

345. Frustrated & Faraway

She has those faraway eyes, the kind that yearn to leap
beyond the reality destined for her. You know, like a scene
from an old movie where the criminal is being transported to
the prison. That kind of eyes. She is wearing fatigue pants &
has a tattoo that looks like she is US Army or the possession
of some guy who is. She has so many hickeys it looks like
poison ivy or like he’s a vacuum cleaner. She looks my way
with eyes begging to be kidnapped. Her mom has filled the
laundry basket with clean, dry laundry. The girl adjusts her
tank top & as they leave the laundromat she takes her gum
& sticks it on the word COME on a poster. Just as she opens
the screen door, someone playing pinball yells “FUCK!” The
girl turns around & looks me straight in the face. The player
lifts the pinball machine’s forelegs clear off the floor & then
lets it—BOOM—fall, yelling “FUCK THIS!” Frustration leads
to actions like this. & sometimes they pay off.

Bart Plantenga is the author of many books of fiction including Beer Mystic, Wiggling Wishbone (Autonomedia, 1995), Spermatagonia: The Isle of Man (Autonomedia, 2004), Paris Scratch (Barncott Press 2012), the mirror image of NY Sin Phoney in Face Flat Minor (Barncott Press 2012). His books Yodel-Ay-Ee-Oooo: The Secret History of Yodeling Around the World (Routledge, 2004) and Yodel in HiFi (University of Wisconsin Press, 2012), the CD Rough Guide to Yodel (2006), and his Youtube channel Yodel in HiFi Top 50+ have created the misunderstanding that he is a yodel expert. He’s also a DJ and has produced his radio show Wreck This Mess since 1986 in NYC (WFMU), Paris (Radio Libertaire), and Amsterdam, where he lives and hopes with partner Nina and daughter Paloma Jet.

  1. Belated thanx for publishing this … the book is now available from Sensitive Books https://sensitiveskinmagazine.com/books/ny-sin-phoney-in-face-flat-minor/ and online at Amazon & others…


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