November 5, 2013 | by Amy Grace Loyd
I was recently asked by a Canadian online magazine to visit with the books on my shelves, to find what I’ve hidden in them over the years—old boarding passes, postcards, grocery lists, a love letter never sent. Yes, I found all these things, but mostly I found tree leaves in my books. The editor wanted a picture, fifty or so words, but I kept writing because it bears explaining why I do this—how I take leaves back to my apartment to identify them, compare them to pictures in other books; and once I’ve named them, or sometimes because I’ve failed to, how I feel compelled to keep the specimens—from ash trees, lindens, London planes, honey locusts, and as-yet unknown (to me) trees all over Brooklyn. They are slipped between pages of novels, story and essay collections, a biography, books I have read and often reread, and when I open them later, forgetting myself and the last day I read that book and where, and under what tree, the leaves reenact the fall, not just one leaf but several, all different sorts, falling, or it’s the fragile end of a branch of a pinnate leaves that’s waiting for me, as here in this photo.
I do this in part because Brooklyn, and Brooklyn Heights in particular, where I’ve lived for over twenty years now, has always felt a refuge from a New York City urbanity that is unabashed and demanding, denuded of softness. The streets in Brooklyn Heights in spring, summer, and every year longer into fall are canopied by the copses of trees, reaching for and finally catching each other. These streets feel like invitations to secrets—the right to secrets—to full breaths and quiet even in this city. The other reason I do this, will always do this, owes to my grandfather, who was an arborist, or tree surgeon, in Vermont. Truth be told, he taught me nothing about trees. I was too young to ask, and in my teens, approaching my twenties, when I did think to inquire, he didn’t seem to care to talk about all the trees he’d pruned, saved, and declared beyond saving, especially during the height of the Dutch elm disease in Vermont, when he and his crew carved up hundreds of elms and carted them away for burning.
He wanted to talk about his life before he was married and settled with children and responsibility in Bennington. He’d been a salesman, an itinerant in the 1920s, and lived in rooming houses up and down the East Coast, from New York to Florida, with other young men similarly and mostly happily unmoored. He saw in my youth his own and described men he’d protected from bigger men, men he’d hit, drank with, women who’d been kind, whose faces now were simply the faces of angels, that out of reach. He died when I was nineteen before my sisters and I had all the right questions to ask, so now I can’t stop asking when I look up from my reading on a city bench or stoop: Is that a Chinese scholar tree? Is that one a Norway maple? I asked recently while reading Grace Paley’s collected stories, reading I first did in the nineties and still do fairly often now, for the immediacy and singularity of Paley’s voice, her frankness and energy (partly a gift of city living and loving), and her humor even when confronting human sorrows and disappointments. The book is full of dust from leaves, like the ones pictured here, that want to disintegrate. I won’t let them. I close the book and reseal them—keep the conversation going.
Amy Grace Loyd’s debut novel, The Affairs of Others, was published by Picador on August 27. Loyd is an executive editor at Byliner Inc. and was the fiction and literary editor at Playboy magazine. She worked in The New Yorker’s fiction department and was associate editor for the New York Review Books Classics series. She has been a MacDowell and Yaddo fellow and lives in Brooklyn, New York.
September 5, 2013 | by Amy Grace Loyd
I tried not to look. The couple couldn’t see me but I could see them, day and night, if I chose, and often enough I did. It’s a benefit or drawback of urban living that our sight lines in the tight geometry of New York City drive us into the lives of others, into private moments not meant for spectators, if we do not pull the blinds, if we don’t look away or past what’s on offer.
I lived in Brooklyn Heights, as I still do, but at the time I found myself on the third floor of a jumble of an old building on the main drag, Montague Street. It’s a street more plaintively commercial and less pretty than the rest of tony Brooklyn Heights; it is more alive with neon and the coming and going of chain stores, salons, restaurants. And with noise, too—from the meals eaten, booze served, and the resulting high spirits, and then those ancient garbage trucks, circling and circling, their brakes screaming.
I stayed too long in that one spot probably, but the rent was affordable, the Greek landlord fatherly, a friend who often treated me to dessert and stories, and I felt safe then in what I described as a garret but was merely two small rooms that vibrated from the ventilation units from the restaurant below.
The front of my apartment looked out onto Montague. The rear faced an accidental courtyard, the back of the restaurant, Mr. Souvlaki, featuring a fountain that usually didn’t work, a small fenced-in patch of scattered plantings, and the backside of a few apartment buildings. The buildings were close, less than fifty yards from what was my combined kitchen and living room, and the apartment in which I came to see so much was slightly higher than my own, so my vantage allowed me to peer up and in, as if that one living space directly across the way was up on a pedestal.
I can’t say when the couple moved in because when they did I’d been in love and my eyes were diverted inside me, charting the ways in which I felt discovered, opened up, prized, or to the moments I’d be near him again, inside the gold of his skin, the wiry lengths of his arms, or to the future of more love and his lips on the back of my neck and shoulders, his tongue writing messages there, everywhere, reaching inside my insides. And there was the pull of his intoxicating smell and even of his home, not in Brooklyn or in New York state, but further north in a place by the Atlantic dotted with sea roses and overrun with green so dense, during the season I met him, that it seemed in revolt, poised to take over. Read More »