From a Rooftop

By Timothy Steele b. 1948 Timothy Steele
At dawn, down in the streets, from pavement grills,
Steam rises like the spent breath of the night.
At open windows, curtains stir on sills;
There’s caging drawn across a market’s face;
An empty crane, at its construction site,
Suspends a cable into chasmed space.

The roof shows other rooftops, their plateaus
Marked with antennas from which lines are tied
And strung with water beads or hung with clothes.
And here and there a pigeon comes to peck
At opaque puddles, its stiff walk supplied
By herky-jerky motions of its neck.

Downtown, tall buildings surmount a thinning haze.
The newest, the world center of a bank,
Has sides swept upward from a block-broad base,
Obsidian glass, fifty stories tall;
Against it hangs a window-washer’s plank,
An aerie on a frozen waterfall.

Nearer and eastward, past still-sleeping blocks,
Crews on the waterfront are changing shifts.
Trucks load at warehouses at the foot of docks;
A tug out in the bay, gathering speed,
With a short hollow blast of puffed smoke, lifts
Gulls to a cawing and air-borne stampede.

It is as if dawn pliantly compels
The city to relax to sounds and shapes,
To its diagonals and parallels:
Long streets with traffic signals blinking red,
Small squares of parks, alleys with fire escapes,
Rooftops above which cloudless day is spread.

And it’s as if the roofs’ breeze-freshened shelves,
Their level surfaces of gravelled tar
Where glassy fragments glitter, are themselves
A measure of the intermediate worth
Of all the stories to the morning star
And all the stories to the morning earth.

Timothy Steele, “From a Rooftop” from Sapphics and Uncertainties: Poems 1970-1986. Copyright � 1986, 1995 by Timothy Steele. Reprinted with the permission of the University of Arkansas Press,

Source: Sapphics Against Anger and Other Poems (1986)

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Poet Timothy Steele b. 1948

Subjects Cities & Urban Life, Social Commentaries

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

 Timothy  Steele


Timothy Steele was born in 1948 in Burlington, Vermont, and holds degrees from Stanford University and Brandeis University, where he studied with the poet J.V. Cunningham. The influence of formal masters like Cunningham and Yvor Winters, a force at Stanford for much of the early 20th century, is apparent in Steele’s poetry, which is notable for its allegiance to traditional forms, meters, and rhyme schemes. Though Steele has . . .

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SUBJECT Cities & Urban Life, Social Commentaries

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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