From the recording Grace and Madness

Lyrics Puma Perl... Music, bass, guitar and vocals Joe Sztabnik. Drums Gary Barnett


This is the slightly abbreviated version of Fearless:

Fear/less: My City

You’re too stupid to be afraid, my mother used to say.
Maybe I was. Wandering the streets, riding subways, entranced by the Red Hook light hitting metal,
by the clotheslines, the pigeon coops.
Getting lost, coming home after dark, keeping secrets.

Painfully shy, my fear of people never caused fear of my city.

I was not afraid, at age seven, in Brownsville,
going to the store with my cousins,
tucking our dollar bills under our arms,
just in case.

Not afraid, at nine, walking to Coney Island
along McDonald Avenue, the rank smell
of caged chickens following us,
trying to find out if it was still all there
in the winter.

Not afraid the night I rode up to El Barrio alone because the Young Lords had taken over a church and I was convinced that the cause would keep me safe. And it did.

I learned the rules of the street along the way.
Who to avoid. When to keep your mouth shut. Stay away from doorways. Walk like you know where you’re going. Never take your money out. Jump the gates. Climb the fences.
Run faster than the knife that might cut your pretty young face. Don’t tell anyone.

Survival skills.  And no matter how smart, young girls do not get away unscathed.
Some bad people, some bad nights.

But I was never afraid of my city.

Saturday evening, September 17, 2016.
We are sitting in the Garden at 6th and B, waiting to do some music.
Some poems.

My friend Ron texts me from Prague.
Explosion. Dumpster. Chelsea. Injuries.
Second device. FBI. Homeland Security.
Cause “not yet determined.”

Images flood my mind as I read.
Eagles of Death Metal. Paris.
Pulse. Orlando.
Young people bleeding on the dance floor. Dying.
The screams.
The smell.
The Towers.
The falling bodies.

Tonight, twenty-nine injured.
Were they sleeping?
Watching television? Eating dinner?
Do we have the right to be angry?
What about our bombs?
What about the Syrian children?
What about my friends?
What have we done?

We are here, making music and poetry,
Feels as far away as Ron, in Prague,
But here. We are all here.

Greetings to everyone, messages Ron.
Be safe, my darlings.

More texts.
Are you ok? Are you ok? Are you ok?
I do the checklist.
My son’s in New Jersey.
My daughter’s at home down here.
Wait...Gerald lives in the Chelsea Hotel
Janis and Kevin and Michael
and Tessa Lou and my cousin Lynn,
who hates me, all in the neighborhood.
Are you ok? Are you ok? Are you ok?

Before 2001, we never took attendance.
Not even in the 70’s when they called it
Fear City.

But we were not afraid of our city.

We were always home.
On rooftops, street corners, broken
glass, basement clubs.
There was no word for homeless.
We were always home.

I am not afraid of my city.
Neither am I intrepid.

I have my panic attacks on Upper East Side avenues, Armies of tight faced women
marching by.
I’m afraid to ride a bike in traffic.
My heart races in stalled subways
and stopped elevators.

But I’m no longer afraid of people.
And I am not afraid of my city.

I hate every new wrinkle and crumbling tooth but I’m glad   that I did not grow up in fear. And I got to grow old.
I remember the feeling of invulnerability.
They say all young people feel it but I don’t think they do any more. I see it in their eyes.

What in the world,
like Bowie said,
What in the world can we do?

We live.
I live.
Newscasters look at us with sad eyes.
Sometimes we get scared, too.

But when I lie in bed at night,
thirteen flights above the river,
listening to rain or traffic noise,
I am struck almost senseless
by the lights of the bridges and
the safety of my concrete walls

I am not afraid of my city.

puma perl, 09/20/16