Calmly Rushing!


Just a few short hours after I had my royal wedding all-nighter, I had a practice English Lit AP exam at school. Though my eyes were drooping and my mind was still fixed on wedding trains and tiaras, I was able to take note of a particular passage that was a part of our examination. It was an excerpt pulled from esteemed poet Gwendolyn Brooks's novel Maud Martha--a collection of 34 vignettes of Martha's life. It tells the story of a woman whose childhood dreams are never quite reached because of her own poor self-worth. After doing some research, I'll have to add it to my summer reading list, which I plan to be filled with books I enjoy before I re-enter the cycle of forced books in the world of academia. Anyway, here's the excerpt and the bolded sections are some of my favorite lines.

"The name 'New York' glittered in front of her like the silver in the shops on Michigan Boulevard. It was silver, and it was solid, and it was remote: it was behind glass, it was behind bright glass like the silver in the shops, it was not for her. Yet.

When she was out walking, and with grating iron swish a train whipped by, off, above, its passengers were always, for her comfort, New York-bound. She sat inside with them. She leaned back in the plush. She sped past farms, through tiny towns, where people slept, kissed, quarreled, ate midnight snacks; unfortunate folk who were not New York-bound and never would be.

Maud Martha loved it when her magazines said 'New York,' described 'good' objects there, wonderful people there, recalled fine talk, the bristling or the creamy or the tactfully shimmering ways of life. They showed pictures of rooms with wood paneling, softly glowing, touched up by the compliment of a spot of auburn here, the low burn of a rare binding there. There were ferns in these rooms, and Chinese boxes; bits of dreamlike crystal; a taste of leather. In the advertisement pages, you saw where you could buy six Italian plates for eleven hundred dollars--and you must hurry, for there was just the one set; you saw where you could buy antique French bisque figuring (pale blue and gold) for--for--Her whole body become a hunger, she would pore over these pages. The clothes interested her, too, especially did she care for the pictures of women wearing carelessly, as if they were rags, dresses that were plain but whose prices were not. And the foolish food (her mother's description) enjoyed by New Yorkers fascinated her. They paid ten dollars for an eight-ounce jar of Russian caviar; they ate things called anchovies, and capers; they ate little diamond-shaped cheeses that paprika had but breathed on; they ate bitter-almond macaroons; they ate papaya packed in ram and syrup they ate peculiar sauces, were free with honey, were lavish with butter, wine and cream.

She bought the New York papers downtown, read of the concerts and plays, studied the book reviews, was intent over the announcement of austions. She liked the sound of 'Fifth Avenue,' 'Town Hall,' 'B. Altman,' Hammacher Schlemmer.' She was on Fifth Avenue whenever she wanted to be, and she it was who rolled up, silky or furry, in the taxi, was assisted out, and stood , her next step nebulous, before the theaters of the thousand lights, before velvet-lined impossible shops; she it was.

New York, for Maud Martha, was a sumbol. Her idea of it stood for what she felt life ought to be. Jeweled. Polished. Smiling. Poised. Calmly rushing! Straight up and down, yet graceful enough." (1953)
The last paragraph I especially enjoyed. I love the exclamatory, "calmly rushing!" It's an oxymoron that can only apply to a city like New York. After the exam, several of my friends told me they couldn't help but think of me when reading this passage. I always talk about the mundane aspects of school and rarely highlight those few moments of inspiration I have during those 35 hours of my week. But here was one.