Open City: Blogging Urban Change
Void Memorials
By Cristiana Baik


Void Memorials
by R.A. Villanueva and Cristiana Baik

You walk between Worth & The Church of the Transfiguration, lost among the pictograms and calligraphies, thinking of oyster sauce. Every backalley will seem to split into thirds. The walls around you lurch, larded with signs. Flowers and nightgowns dry on the escapes. An elderly man spits to the cobblestone, wipes his mouth against each arm. No one offers directions to what cannot be found alone.

The arcade is lit by the yellow-red of lamps and a glow thrown across the faces within. They arrive here, like you, because there is nowhere left in the city like this, with the cabinets’ mad chirp, the ruckus of tokens, tribes of gestures and knuckles. It appears before you with alarum castanets, a colony without sense of time.


A sense of time.

In all directions, do we forget. Even
with our sight, we forget.

Is it terrifying, the simplicity of this logic,
the blanketing pavement
that is money.

It is 1925. The Bowery is bound
by endless
trays of alleys, keeps
of chimney stacks crossed by shadows
of laundry lines, flickering
gas-lamps, their light dove-coloring
towards windows propped open.

To listen to the night
emanating with the murmurs and rumors
we will wake up to.


As the rumors say, there is a chicken in the rear of the room waiting to play against you for a purse of fortune cookies. A game of X and O from his cage made of glass.

But what you watch for are the gathered boys, their claps and clutch of hands. You watch them watching through each other. Kicks of lightning, punches of ice, their chosen bodies throwing fire across an agora, or above a pit of thorns, cartwheeling across the crown of a dirigible. If not for gravity, how high they’d be. Each aerial and forearm guard named, each super move and finisher announced loudly into the sky.


It is 2011. He describes
the chicken-wire ceiling
being the same as it was in 1925.
And everything else except
the occupants remains
as it was in 1925—

windowless hallways with wooden floors,
a large unlit empty lobby ballooning out from
a narrow flight of stairs.

He does not ask questions.
He does not attribute
anything to fate.


Certain mornings there is a quiet
we mistake for peace. It is a highway
through the windpipe of a borough
we convince ourselves is the wash
of some inland sea. Sirens remind you
of swallows, the martial hum of propellers
above the jetty, a mid-morning the color
and weight of gauze.

What we have will leave us soon
enough; we all fail at living the lives
our fathers wished for us.

The augury of nails
and the houses
that harbor them,
the posts and buttresses
who depend on their hold.

I swear upon the water
that washing my hands
makes them easier to cut.


The last of the flophouses
have heroic names,
like the Whitehouse,
the Sunshine Hotel.

He says: this is an “eat-it-or-beat-it hotel”

This all against the backdrop
of the Whole Foods Market,
glass-beamed high-rises,
which vanquish the past
with the certainty of fate.

He taps his fingers
on the edge of a desk.

He says, It’s a funny world,
you know. Time
that is.

You first
come here
to lay your head
down somewhere
for a few
hours. Then
the hours turn themselves
into a keep
of years.

But this
he says. This
will be last
of the last.

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About Open City
Open City: Blogging Urban Change is an interdisciplinary neighborhood blog and community project coordinated by the Asian American Writers’ Workshop. Five commissioned writers, called Organizing Fellows, are working with community organizations and neighborhood folks in Manhattan’s Chinatown/Lower East Side (LES), Flushing, Queens, and Sunset Park, Brooklyn to collect oral histories and interviews, offer commentary about gentrification, neighborhood change, and produce new creative work around these themes. Read more.
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Featured Profile
CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities was formed in 1986 (formerly known as the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence) as a response to an increase in anti-Asian hate crimes both in New York City and around the country (which included violence by police officers against Asians).
They have two offices – one in Manhattan’s Chinatown (which houses the Chinatown Tenants Union, and the new Asian Youth in Action organizing project) and the Youth Leadership Project office in the Bronx – and have members from all over the city. Over the years, CAAAV’s main campaigns have focused on community-based organizing work rooted in Asian immigrant and refugee communities. Although their advocacy and organizing work is focused mainly in Manhattan’s Chinatown and the northwest Bronx, CAAAV’s work also touches upon larger issues (such as affordable housing, war, and immigration) shaping communities all over the world: “Our work is primarily centered around issues facing New Yorkers, but always with a global analysis.”
CAAAV’s mission is to organize and build the power of working-class Asian immigrants, refugees, and youth to change concrete conditions and participate in a broader social justice movement. In the past, CAAAV’s work included organizing South Asian taxi drivers, Korean women workers, and Filipina domestic workers. Several of these organizing projects have gone on to become their own organizations, such as the New York Taxi Workers Alliance and Domestic Workers United. CAAAV’s current work focus on three different program areas: Read more.

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Community Announcements
Manhattan CB3 Land Use, Zoning, Public & Private Housing Committee
Monday, May 2 at 6:30 pm -- Rutgers Community Center, Gymnasium - 200 Madison Street (btwn Rutgers & Pike Sts)

Brooklyn CB7, Land Use/Landmarks Committee Regular meeting
Continued discussion on potential 8th Avenue rezoning

Manhattan CB3 Economic Development Committee Tuesday, May 3 at 6:30pm -- Community Board 3 Office - 59 East 4th Street (btwn 2nd Ave & Bowery)

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