St Vincent’s

By W. S. Merwin b. 1927
Thinking of rain clouds that rose over the city   
on the first day of the year

in the same month
I consider that I have lived daily and with

eyes open and ears to hear
these years across from St Vincent’s Hospital   
above whose roof those clouds rose

its bricks by day a French red under
cross facing south
blown-up neo-classic facades the tall
dark openings between columns at
the dawn of history   
exploded into many windows
in a mortised face

inside it the ambulances have unloaded
after sirens’ howling nearer through traffic on   
Seventh Avenue long
ago I learned not to hear them
even when the sirens stop

they turn to back in
few passers-by stay to look   
and neither do I

at night two long blue
windows and one short one on the top floor   
burn all night
many nights when most of the others are out   
on what floor do they have
anything

I have seen the building drift moonlit through geraniums   
late at night when trucks were few
moon just past the full
upper windows parts of the sky
as long as I looked
I watched it at Christmas and New Year
early in the morning I have seen the nurses ray out through   
arterial streets
in the evening have noticed internes blocks away
on doorsteps one foot in the door

I have come upon the men in gloves taking out   
the garbage at all hours   
piling up mountains of
plastic bags white strata with green intermingled and
black
I have seen one pile
catch fire and studied the cloud
at the ends of the jets of the hoses
the fire engines as near as that
red beacons and
machine-throb heard by the whole body
I have noticed molded containers stacked outside   
a delivery entrance on Twelfth Street
whether meals from a meal factory made up with those   
mummified for long journeys by plane
or specimens for laboratory
examination sealed at the prescribed temperatures   
either way closed delivery

and approached faces staring from above   
crutches or tubular clamps
out for tentative walks
have paused for turtling wheel-chairs
heard visitors talking in wind on each corner   
while the lights changed and
hot dogs were handed over at the curb   
in the middle of afternoon
mustard ketchup onions and relish
and police smelling of ether and laundry   
were going back

and I have known them all less than the papers of our days   
smoke rises from the chimneys do they have an incinerator
what for
how warm do they believe they have to maintain the air
in there
several of the windows appear   
to be made of tin
but it may be the light reflected

I have imagined bees coming and going
on those sills though I have never seen them

who was St Vincent

W. S. Merwin, “St Vincent’s” from Migration: New & Selected Poems (Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2005). Copyright © 2005 by W. S. Merwin. Reprinted with the permission of The Wylie Agency, Inc.

Source: The Compass Flower (Copper Canyon Press, 1977)

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Poet W. S. Merwin b. 1927

POET’S REGION U.S., Western

Subjects Health & Illness, Architecture & Design, Living, Arts & Sciences

Holidays Christmas, New Year

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 W. S. Merwin

Biography

W.S. Merwin is a prolific, leading American writer whose poetry, translations, and prose have won praise over seven decades. His first book, A Mask for Janus (1952),  was chosen by W.H. Auden for the Yale Younger Poets Prize. Though that first book reflected the formalism of the period, Merwin eventually became known for an impersonal, open style that eschewed punctuation. Writing in the Guardian, Jay Parini described Merwin’s . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Health & Illness, Architecture & Design, Living, Arts & Sciences

POET’S REGION U.S., Western

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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