What a delight and honor to be invited as a guest on the “Bronx Heroes” podcast!
My conversation with hosts Dan Zauderer and Rina Madhani was far-ranging. I got to talk about my deep affection for my home borough, growing up in a firefighting family, and how I try to stay connected to the Bronx. As I told the podcast hosts, “I don’t consider myself a Bronx hero… I’m the product of Bronx heroes.”
It’s available for listening now! I really enjoyed the conversation, and it touches on so many topics I have written about. I hope to share some good news about THAT in the near future!
Back when he was a new firefighter in 1962, my father helped pull a fellow firefighter to safety as a porch roof collapsed in a Bronx house fire. The moment was captured by a New York Daily News photographer, and it was splashed on the front page the next day. We carefully saved that front page, and my mother must have written to the Daily News and requested the 9-by-12 photo. The photo, and the fragile front page of that long-ago newspaper, are treasured family objects.
Decades later and shortly after my father died, we discovered the book NEW YORK’S BRAVEST: EIGHT DECADES OF PHOTOGRAPHS FROM THE DAILY NEWS. It’s packed with photographs of FDNY firefighting, depicting a range of terrifying, tragic, and quiet moments. And there on the cover is the photograph from 1962… the collapsing front porch of the house on E. 236th Street in the Bronx, the ladder suspended in the air, and my father, there in the window in his Engine 90 helmet, holding on to that firefighter dangling where the porch roof had been.
My father maintained the firefighter ethos of never telling us very much about the scary, heart-pounding, or disturbing parts of his job. Maybe that’s one reason why we love this photograph (and the book) so much. It shows him doing what he loved, and doing it well. On September 11th and always, I bow my head to the many firefighters who lost their lives doing what they loved, and I think of their families, who still miss them so very much.
I know there’s an image of New Yorkers being somewhat hard-boiled when visitors get googly-eyed over the charms and flash of NYC, but on a recent visit, I saw the opposite, thanks to the FDNY.
We were walking past a firehouse not far from Times Square, and the bay was open. The sun was shining and a breeze was blowing. A few firefighters in uniform, all guys, were standing in front of the engine, enjoying a quiet moment and chatting.
Maybe it was the music that got our attention. We turned to see a pedicab going by, blasting Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind,” with the vocals of Alica Keys soaring over the traffic sounds. And in the back of the pedicab, a woman flashed a huge smile at the firefighters and shouted, “Hey, boys!” She held up her phone and snapped a photo as they smiled and waved. No one was trying to play it cool.
It was a small moment, but there was not a trace of “jaded New Yorker” to be seen anywhere. The pedicab continued ferrying its enthusiastic passenger, the firefighters chuckled, and we were left with smiles that lasted more than a few blocks.
As writers, we get used to leaning into headwinds, persevering through all of the rejections and maybes and the waiting. Then when something wonderful happens, it’s a shock to the system!
Yesterday, my poem about growing up in the Bronx appeared in the New York Times. Right there in the Metropolitan Diary section of the Sunday Times was “Ars Poetica, Bronx,” a poem I wrote about how I became a poet. It was inspired by a prompt from a class on poetic forms, taught by poet Georgia Heard in spring 2021. It was written in my favorite time of day, when I rise at 5 a.m. to enjoy an hour or two of writing time before the world wakes up, a ritual known to many writers as #5amwritersclub.
Sharing the poem brought me so much joy yesterday– and enthusiastic responses from friends and family in Massachusetts and New York, California and Ireland, the UK and Brazil. It brought back vivid memories of the breakfast table in our apartment in the Bronx, where the Times was a fixture.
When the “yes” days happen, it’s important to savor them! Yesterday was a “yes” day.