Writing the Apocalypse: The Taste of Rebellion

L to R: Bob Holman, Bowery Poetry Club founder, Puma Perl, Mike, counterman for 14 years, Ola (Aleksandra Abdelwahad), co-owner of the B&H. | Photo by Ram Devineni

“Writing the Apocalypse” is a weekly series featuring the poems, essays, and recollections of Puma Perl, with subject matter influenced by her experiences as a NYC resident during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a preface to this week’s  poem (which appears in her current book, “Birthdays Before and After,” Puma Perl notes:

This week, I participated in a film that Bowery Poetry Club is making. It will celebrate and support our city’s restaurants. Seven poets across the boroughs were asked to choose their favorite restaurants, and to be filmed there, ordering and eating some food, and performing a poem.

I chose the B&H Dairy Kosher Restaurant (127 Second Ave.), because, since 1938, it has been a mainstay on a block so special to many of us. B&H is located a few doors south of where the Gem Spa was (it recently closed), and a few doors north of the Second Avenue explosion of 2015. I chose the B&H because the food is made with love and, for me and my late husband, was the closest we were to our grandmothers’ kitchens. My son took some of his first bites of food there, over 40 years ago.

I chose to read an excerpt from The Taste of Rebellion because, along with B&H, it brings me back to the Lower East Side streets of my late teens and young adulthood. We have both survived. I dedicate it to everyone marching through the city streets right now, and to the Black Lives Matter movement. Thanks to Fawzy Abdelwahed, owner since 2003, his wife and B&H co-owner Ola, and the great and loyal staff. Thanks also to Bowery Poetry Club Executive Director Mahogany L. Browne, founder Bob Holman, and Ram Devineni, who filmed and coordinated the project.

The Taste of Rebellion | By Puma Perl

What did your rebellion taste like?

Mine tasted like long-haired boys

Sounded like 4AM rock and roll,

felt like the bottom

of my mother’s staircase

after she kicked me out

for coming home too late

 

My rebellion tasted of not going back,

smelled like $34 in my wallet,

dug into me like the knife

resting in a sheath on my hip

the day I changed my name

to Puma, just like my knife

 

My rebellion felt like never going home,

Feelings began in my legs,

exploded like the orgasms

I’d never even had yet,

smelled like pot and silk scarves

burning shade on lightbulbs,

looked like paisley,

reds and blues melting

on purple

Sounded like Jimi and Janis

before they reached 27

and draped the Fillmore in black

 

Nobody witnessed my rebellion,

everybody caught up in their own

My family had already labelled me

crazy, hopeless, a lost cause,

a loser nobody would love

They were wrong and they were right

 

His rebellion was dropping out

of Bronx Science, hiding a gun

in his bureau, black jeans so tight

he “customized” them

with slits up the calf

and could hardly walk up the five flights

leading to our Tenth Street apartment

with the police lock, the brick wall,

the loft bed, the bathtub in the kitchen

Where we lived in our shared rebellion

 

Our rebellion was his criminality,

my welfare, our books and music,

the dog he called Stagger Lee,

nights in Tompkins Square Park

days on St. Mark’s Place,

armed love, cigarettes

leather jackets

 

My surrender was to heroin,

His was to money

A baby born in the middle

of our separation

His rebellion would be raves,

speed, cars, girls, and survival

 

The drugs are gone

Stagger Lee was stolen

from outside a bodega

and his owner’s life surrendered

to the gun held in his own hand

 

My rebellion is quiet and solitary

Broken down Tuesdays

and hot summer days when life

seems to go on too long

Today is Wednesday, July 4th

Fireworks but no celebration

I order Chinese food and search

for a black and white movie

If new Coltrane tracks can be found

Maybe there’s still some hope

for rebellion without surrender.

 

© puma perl, 07/04/2018

Puma Perl is a poet and writer, with five solo collections in print. The most recent is Birthdays Before and After (Beyond Baroque Books, 2019.) She is the producer/creator of Puma’s Pandemonium, which brings spoken word together with rock and roll, and she performs regularly with her band Puma Perl and Friends. She’s received three New York Press Association awards in recognition of her journalism, and is the recipient of the 2016 Acker Award in the category of writing. Her most recent books can be found by clicking here.

A taste of rebellion in Tompkins Square Park: Puma Perl and baby son. | Photo courtesy of Perl

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