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Robert Frank Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

“When people look at my pictures I want them to feel the way they do when they want to read a line of a poem twice.” —Robert Frank

On the ledge a clear, dull stemmed fruit cocktail glass.

Looking into the 2nd floor window, a TV shaped object, a sculpture I believe.  Whatever it is, its back is always turned to the street. Upon closer inspection, inside on the

windowsill, a toy 3 inch barstool and a matching wire figure playing the bongos, and a metal coil.

I’ve never seen a bag of trash, not even on Friday, which is big trash night, in front of his house. Where does he leave it?

I should make a film of people walking by, it’s an ordinary act to walk down this city street, and the remains of the Bowery are visual from here. 

I think he’s gone because we used to have sightings. “Guess who I saw today. He’s small. And a woman with silver hair, his wife, I suppose. They were talking to a construction worker outside their building.”

He must have moved to Nova Scotia. I read that he has a house there.

I have seen other people, younger ones, go inside the building but not to his apartment; actually I only imagine it’s his apartment. I’ve no proof, only that the shadows suggest Robert Frank, and the windows give nothing away. Nothing ever moves inside.

Anyway, I’m sure there must be interns and assistants to handle the prints.

This morning the Yippie king, his neighbor, walked by with “to go coffee” in both hands. His pants tucked into his boots, in a Yippie uniform of a vest, shirt and pants. He leads the pot parade every May Day in Washington Square Park. He must know that Robert Frank is his neighbor.

Sometimes the basement blinds are shut tighter than at others. What does he do in there all day, cut the garbage into little pieces and feed it into the sink drain? 

I think he’s in Nova Scotia.

Even one scrap of a print, any evidence is something.

It’s green on the outside. With blinds at the street level, mostly closed but sometimes I can see into the basement. I was hoping it was his dark room but it’s only dark, and it’s a room: thus it’s storage.

Someone told me he lives there, and I saw him on the street outside once and so did my husband. I think he lives in Nova Scotia now. I heard Philip Glass spends the summers there.

A single light bulb is on near the back in front of a window. On the 3rd floor are three windows from left to right, read: plant, papers, plant. This morning on my way to work, I looked inside and the light was on, and on my way home late tonight, I looked again, still on.  I know a poet who lives in Nova Scotia, and I heard that she had a fling with Philip Glass in Nova Scotia.

The light, a bare bulb, hangs down in front of a window with the blind drawn. Nearby is a large photograph and I’m sure it must be famous, of a harsh landscape, but from a distance on the street, only the contrasts show. It’s very bleak in Nova Scotia. I’ve never been there, only seen photographs and met people who told me “It’s bleak but it has a very rugged beauty.”

The top, arched windows are quiet and blind. And on the sidewalk, there is never a scrap of a photograph or even the corner of one, or a print, shredded or otherwise.

I think he lives in Nova Scotia now. It’s probably good that he moved before they tear down the rest of the Bowery.

Postscript: last Thursday, December 9, 2004, I walked by around 9:00 PM. There was someone inside; a man painting a wall, but it was not him. Since then the curtains have been taken down, and an easel has been set up.  I know a poet who lives in Nova Scotia, and Robert Frank doesn’t live here anymore.


Brenda Coutlas

Brenda Coutlas is the author of A Handmade Museum, published by Coffee House Press.


The Brooklyn Rail

MAR 2005

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