I. The Day Dreamers
All day all over the city every person
Wanders a different city, sealed intact
And haunted as the abandoned subway stations
Under the city. Where is my alley doorway?
Stone gable, brick escarpment, cliffs of crystal.
Where is my terraced street above the harbor,
Café and hidden workshop, house of love?
Webbed vault, tiled blackness. Where is my park, the path
Through conifers, my iron bench, a shiver
Of ivy and margin birch above the traffic?
A voice. There is a mountain and a wood
Between us—one wrote, lovesick—Where the late
Hunter and the bird have seen us. Aimless at dusk,
Heart muttering like any derelict,
Or working all morning, violent with will,
Where is my garland of lights? My silver rail?
II. “Everywhere I Go, There I Am”
Hot days of errands and badges, paper, shrill rage
Of sparrows morning and evening. At sunset
A clearing stroll around the square and down
A steep street twisting to the edge of the narrows,
The brick embankment path and the iron rail
The same as always. The water. All through your body
A steady twinkling of ceasing and being, the cells
That die by millions and replicate themselves
So every seven years your substance is new,
But the same score, the same scar making a faint
Crescent along your temple, always fading,
The blood all different but the same from day
To day, the city birds along the harbor
Working the cracks and hedges, the titan moan
Of a tanker blasting and receding, the range
Of noises a fretwork of the bay, the night.
III. House Hour
Now the pale honey of a kitchen light
Burns at an upstairs window, the sash a cross.
Milky daylight moon,
Sky scored by phone lines. Houses in rows
Patient as cows.
Dormers and gables of an immigrant street
In a small city, the wind-worn afternoon
Shading into night.
Hundreds of times before
I have felt it in some district
Of shingle and downspout at just this hour.
The renter walking home from the bus
Carrying a crisp bag. Maybe a store
Visible at the corner, neon at dusk.
Macaroni mist fogging the glass.
Unwilled, seductive as music, brief
As dusk itself, the forgotten mirror
Brushed for dozens of years
By the same gray light, the same shadows
Of soffit and beam end, a reef
Of old snow glowing along the walk.
If I am hollow, or if I am heavy with longing, the same:
The ponderous houses of siding,
Fir framing, horsehair plaster, fired bricks
In a certain light, changing nothing, but touching
Those separate hours of the past
And now at this one time
Of day touching this one, last spokes
Of light silvering the attic dust.
IV. Street Music
Sweet Babylon, headphones. Song bones.
At a slate stairway’s base, alone and unready,
Not far from the taxis and bars
Around the old stone station,
In the bronze, ordinary afternoon light—
To find yourself back behind that real
City and inside this other city
Where you slept in the street.
Your bare feet, gray tunic of a child,
Coarse sugar of memory.
Salt Nineveh of barrows and stalls,
The barber with his copper bowl,
Beggars and grain-sellers,
The alley of writers of letters
In different dialects, stands
Of the ear-cleaner, tailor,
Spicer. Reign of Asur-Banipal.
Hemp woman, whore merchant,
Hand porter, errand boy,
Child sold from a doorway.
Candy Memphis of exile and hungers.
Honey kalends and drays,
Syrup-sellers and sicknesses,
Runes, donkeys, yams, tunes
On the mouth-harp, shuffles
And rags. Healer, dealer, drunkard.
Fresh water, sewage—wherever
You died in the market sometimes
Your soul flows a-hunting buried
Cakes here in the city.
Archaic, the trains mated with our human blood.
Stone trestle, abutment wall. Above the tracks
A rakish exile Santa lashed to a pole.
Black cinders, burdock, sumac, Pepsi, cellophane,
Each syllable a filament in the cord
Of a word-net knotted in the passionate shadows
Of skeletal vine and beanpole in one back yard
Along the embankment. Here with dirty thunder
Deliberate heavy creatures before the light
Of morning made the bedroom windows tremble
With lordly music, and their exhalations
Tingled our nostrils. Railbed tavern and church
Of former slaves, synagogue of the low,
Sicilian grocery, Polish crèche. A seed
Of particles that Zeuslike penetrated
The bread and carboned the garden tomatoes—even
Our sheets that bucked and capered in the wind
Flashed whiter than others, tempered by iron black
Bleaching to armor in silver winter sun.
VI. The Tuning
Soon in this plaza high above the harbor
Under the statue of St. Magnus Martyr
The gypsy orchestra will begin to play.
Down on the borders of the immigrant ghetto
Couples are gathering at the Montenegro
And the Club République, but at the close of day
These strings of lights and early summer weather
Bring us here: smell of traffic, tentative laughter
From café tables, a trickle of television
Leaking from the open window of an apartment
Above us. Clean cotton, perfume, garlic, the sunset
Making the pavement red with expectation:
And now we are the city—the mighty avenues
Named for historic dates, the alleyways,
The brands of car and liquor, the souk, the stone
Obelisk in the old slave market. Now the nervous
Tangle of tones and scales is suspended, the players
All schooling their single root to the raised baton.