The City (1925)

By Carl Rakosi 1903–2004 Carl Rakosi
1

Under this Luxemburg of heaven,   
upright capstan,
                         small eagles. . . .
is the port of N.Y. . . . .         

gilders, stampers, pen makers, goldbeaters,

apprehensions of thunder   
                      speed
                           the whore   
                      indifference   
                           son
                      glioma

Tammany, McCoy,
the bonze doors of the Guarantee Trust,   
the copper spandrels.

Orangerie and game room
with Old English tall twisted   
stem engraved goblets
and Royal Copenhagen porcelain.

A mutton fat jade
Chien Lung
                bowl
a toilet bottle
                        amethyst
stopper & monogram shield.

A technical display.
You bought a perfume bottle
and a Chinese shawl.
Susannah set a headstone in St. Paul.

I’m inside waiting for a surprise
I’m in love with the girl on the Wabash   
I’m alone with a hand in my hand   
and a pair of wonderful eyes

but I’m blue
I have to speak   
I want to do   
I want to see
the sights obscure me
the facts secure me

The Maine sails out to sea
the undertaker drives to Hartford

Yesterday the ducks flew in a mackerel sky.   
I had the allotropes of vision,
something historical at the controls
of North America,
heavyweight and metaphorical.

What are the facts?
they swept the city hall today
they set the lathe dogs   
trimmed the tool posts   
scraped the bearings   
shellacked the knots,   
they set the capital   
upon the shaft.

Somebody has to drive the spikes   
pitch the gears
oil the cams
somebody has to kill the whisky   
somebody has to speak

What are the facts?


2

Inland is
the goat in open field.   
The milk is marketed.   
Attend our table.

The sand
             and fluorspar
and the soda ash
make a blue
                  aventurine glass   
for this city,
                      a lion rampant
on his hind feet, royally   
clawing, tail whipped up.


3

come, great city,
give us that old-time vaudeville

”During the water-movement
of the French horns
and the lovelace of a violin
a wire from my girl,
`I love you but I need a deposit.‘
Even the ventriloquist’s dummy laughed   
after we combed his pretty red hair   
and set him on his tricycle.“

Do you know the story of Sal?   
She was a lonely little gal
with the lovelight in her eyes
and Mr. H. H. at the ivories
and she was happy (honest to God)

In the season of Romain effects   
and synthetic American lights
she drove into a California suburb   
in a high-compression gull-line Suiza   
rolling her Klieg eyes
like revolving doors

whereupon the jackass   
full of animal gas
floated blissfully
into the dance
of the seven veils,
yakking, ‘I have that   
funny feeling again,   
it must be love.’

Commentary: nothing
so marks the copulative man
as a corkscrew and a bottle opener.

Question:
Could you stand an old man   
to a cup of coffee?
It’s hard walking
with this silver plate
in my head.

Come, great city,
                           you have full powers   
of attorney to protect your friends.


4

Immigrants from Warsaw
move into a furnished room   
close to the stores
under St. Chrysostom’s carillon   
with a porcelain pitcher
and bath and hand towels
on the bed rails.
A new sign appears
in the ground-floor window:
Smocking, Hemstitching, Rhinestone Setting

Our hour from here
                            a loggia
above the pepper trees   
a tiny cascade and vines   
above the bath house   
men and women driving   
on the fairway, laughing

surrounded by Galloway   
pottery, garden furniture   
and white daisies.


5

When the light sprang from the sea, blowing,   
the window sintered and blew like Venus   
revealing my tenderness
                                    and many minds   
the way a night shot
discovers a beast drinking
and my responsibilities
                                    eating me
as dogs eat gizzard.

I saw the city
                      changed
set up like laboratory glassware,   
amines of herring brine,
the malic acid of the sea buckthorn,   
glass-enclosed prescription balance,   
steel and agate, Fabrik Koln
a physics clear as alcohol,
La Vita Nuova, I hardly knew.

Creditors dined at the Cliquot Club,   
they read the papers, trade changed.   
Their horses died, the big-bellied;   
their dogs slept in the steam heat.

An ambulance with modest   
glass doors and a silver cross   
keeps night watch:

                            A surgeon.   
Delicate nickel-plated
instruments are laid on trays.

Illuminated on the operating table
                            naked glassblowers,   
gunsmiths, barbers, clerks, importers,   
old men from hotels, pink and tailored,   
naphtha-smelling Irish priests,   
cravat-and-boy face of the movie usher,   
Frankel, Shmulik, Old Country watchmakers

then a white horse in the park,
cigars and politics.
The city wrapped in cellophane,
an act-born eggshape
                               twisted like Ugolino

one sea-water,
                      one circulatory system   
of man observing his magnificent urea.

Carl Rakosi, “The City (1925)” from The Collected Poems of Carl Rakosi (Orono: The National Poetry Foundation, 1986). Used with the permission of Marilyn J. Kane.

Source: The Collected Poems of Carl Rakosi (National Poetry Foundation, 1986)

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Poet Carl Rakosi 1903–2004

SCHOOL / PERIOD Objectivist

Subjects Cities & Urban Life, Social Commentaries

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Carl  Rakosi

Biography

The son of German Jewish parents, Carl Rakosi was born in Berlin in 1903, moving soon to Hungary following his parents’ separation in 1904. Immigrating with his father and stepmother to Kenosha, Wisconsin, in 1910, he eventually graduated from the University of Wisconsin (where he edited the literary magazine) and later earned a master’s degree in social work from the University of Pennsylvania. Rakosi’s involvement in the . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Cities & Urban Life, Social Commentaries

SCHOOL / PERIOD Objectivist

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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