Poet’s Notebook: Disappearing streets, disappearing soul and soul-retrieval

Disappearing places, disappearing soul

My son forwarded a 1990s-vintage video of a street in NYC that is no more, gobbled up by gentrification. He sent me the link with the email:

“This is why I long for how cities used to be back in the day. I don’t even know how to process this kind of grief! Check out how Lower East Side used to be.”


I watched the video, and then I knew what I wanted to say. I wrote back to him:

I’ve been dealing with something similar on many levels all my life. It’s called soul-loss. For you, you experience it in the sterilization of these neighborhoods in cities where streets have been raped by money. People’s livelihoods, that they have built up over years, that reflect their passions and gifts and hard-work and soul, have been bought out from under them. But it happens in other ways that are just as painful and poignant. The loss of hometowns in the Midwest, and in coastal communities that grew up around fishing with little bakeries and family run restaurants, taxi-services, hardware stores, grocery stores . . . And mountain communities that used to be about the mountain environment; these communities were living a kind of poetry just by subsisting in the shadow of the mountain . . . City streets on the harbor that used to be about the harbor, depot towns that used to be about the depot, with trains coming and going. But, there is something else to say here: When you talk about grief and loss and processing, you should remember that even though you are talking about actual places and environments, there is a corresponding soulfulness in you that is connected to your heart. Your heart feels the loss and grieves the loss of these one-of-a-kind places, but it’s important not to lose the part of you that is capable of longing, and knows when it finds soul in the world, because the world is still full of soul and soulful places to find and love and protect. That’s why I bring up soul-retrieval all the time, and why I bring up dream work. We poets, artists, dancers, musicians and music-lovers, dreamers and dream-workers have to work hard to keep our hearts open and vital and responsive to life. There is a kind of depth-processing that allows you to keep your soul intact so you don’t burn out and get angry or tired or stressed-out or bitter before you, for example, raise a family, or fall in love or serve your vision, whatever form that assumes. Do you get what I’m saying? Don’t say that the loss is all out there, that it’s all tied up with literal loss of place or places, and their people, like these streets, even though that is a big part of it, because soul loss also has to do with the loss of soul that we embody. When we come into the world, we are almost one with this soulfulness, but as we evolve into this person we are, our soul splits off a little and some of it wanders off and gravitates to places we fall in love with, so when those places that our soul attached to (and people) disappear, we feel like something is being ripped away from us, stolen! But our soulfulness doesn’t have to be lost with the loss of world-soul . . . It is who we are. It comes out in how we make friends, how we reach out, spend our time, what we read and write, where we travel and what we do there, how we treat animals and others, co-create our surroundings, how it is expressed in the work we do, how we play, the music we play and hear and support, and the kind of families we raise. Do the depth work! . . . Serve and nurture your soul. That is the best way to combat the unraveling that is going on in the world these days. Do the depth work. Your heart will thank you. It will know exactly what you are trying to do and it will send you the dreams to answer your the question you just asked in the form of an exclamation — “I don’t know how to process this kind of grief!” You may not, but your heart does and your gut!


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