Ode to 61st Ave
For Oona, Annie, Meagan, and Matt.
I grew to love many people and places in Portland, Oregon, but none more so than a small residence on NE 61st Ave at Glisan. It was an unassuming place, perched one among four on a steep hill in North Tabor. I recall the touch of the brick exterior, rough and warm after a day’s steady stream of sunlight. That building held sunlight well though it did not shine. Like a large crystal glass lit from within. Like an old-fashioned.
Once fortune frowned upon me at a party and I was forced to retire early. Two lovely people offered to drive me home but found it difficult to learn where that was. At the time I lived with O. on 66th and Halsey but, for whatever reason, I gave them our old address on 61st. You can move houses but that doesn’t always mean you’ve moved homes. They parked and helped me out, walked me up the stairs and waited for someone, anyone, to take over the sad duty of caring for me. Matt opened the door and we sat on the steps for what was not time but time stretched thin like cellophane. I can only remember translucent pockets of those moments that night—memories not grounded in context but still real: the feeling of his hand on my back and his quiet mumbling. His beer can. The flour on his black shoes. 61st Ave was Matt and I on the stairs on the fourth of July.
I often would stand at the big windows in the living room as they framed the westward view. Life changes when you can see out over a space, when sunsets grow into the vacuum of a darkening sky. Every night around twilight the toothpick towers on the west hills would begin blinking like meditative beacons reminding me of how much sat between us. A city that was new, then interesting, and then home. The MAX station at 60th that felt like a poem in itself. The Willamette and its bridges. The lush slopes of Washington Park crisscrossed with trails like birthmarks. There was an infinity between us—the blinking towers in the distance and I in the living room on 61st—but I saw it all from a place of reference and that’s all it takes to cage infinity.
There are many ways to approach a home, and I especially enjoyed this particular path from street to front door. It was a simple path, concrete stairs and iron railings, but meandered more than most. It was narrow and forked on several occasions which gave it the feeling of a tiny antiquity sheltered by clipped hedges. Even when exhausted I never minded walking up the stairs to the soft and cold screen door. That door was light and felt as though made of tin, and the screen was broken at the top such that a cat—should it be committed enough—could easily escape. I remember Chloe’s soft ashy face when I held her up and poked her kitten nose through the screen. “See?” I said. “You can escape whenever you want.” But she was not interested in escaping; she is like a memory, comfortable and shy. 61st Ave was the soft pitter-patter of Chloe’s grey paws, like fast moving fog.
Carl Sandburg wrote that:
Portland did not have enough fog for me, I need more than most, but it did have the house on 61st Ave and that house had the presence of fog: sitting and looking over harbor and city on silent haunches.