City of Grace

By Jake Adam York 1972–2012

Welcome to Jackson: City of Grace and Benevolence

City of Grace, you open,
you part your curtains
and smile like a hostess
when we call your name,
you tender what any traveler needs,
a call to ease, a balm,
a kindness, whatever storm.
You take us in. City of Grace
and Benevolence, you say
you know what solace means,
burned so often they called you
Chimneyville, and now
you can't forget,
you've written it in bronze
outside the City Hall
the War made a hospital
for the Yankee
and for your Rebel sons,
like the one who is always dying
outside the Capitol.
City of Fame,
you hold him still, laurel
on your crown, fan
making a hand of wind
to soothe his face
and fill the eagle's wings
spread above to promise,
Virtute et armis, to say again
just how far you'll go.
City of Remembrance,
you keep so well, you show us
where Welty lived,
the house still there, how she skated
to the library, through
the Capitol, the book
now cast and open in her hands.
Tell me now, City of Embrace,
of the newsreels' children
rounded from their march,
flags gathered, the children
trucked to the fairground cages,
the ones who peer out
through the chicken wire.
City of Richard Wright
and Ross Barnett, tell me
not just where the Governor pled
I love Mississippi, I love her people,
her customs, but where the writer
went to school, a short walk
from here, thinking it was not
until one wanted the world to be different
that one would look at the world
with will and emotion, and tell me,
then, where Medgar Evers lived,
whom you remember
with a post office and a stamp
and an airport, though
when I've asked you've turned
to someone else and said
Can you help this man find his friend?


Ambivalent City, you know the way,
but you let me find it, the statue,
the library, miles away,
the Boulevard, and then the house,
the plaque that tells us
this is where he lived, perfect
as a photograph, as a movie,
only the color's unreal,
or too real, the green piercing,
the hose uncoiled as if someone
might return to water the lawn.
Neighbors cruise, panning
like cameras as I stand
where he must have stood
choosing the house with no front door,
where Beckwith must have stood,
who drove the town asking everyone
where Evers lived, where
he marked his man.
There is nowhere else to stand.
A city is a kind of memory,
and if you stay too long
the shape of someone else
will hold you there
until day repeats its failure
and the streetlights wake
and yawn all color from the dusk
and the house becomes a photograph
of itself and the small wings
unfold from the fabric of night,
from all the magnolias' ears
and the broad stretch of the reservoir
and the river you can smell
as they gather into pearls
the stars' historic light,
the eyes' whose looking stays
long after the pupils
have burned away. Fireflies
fall back into the grass,
and the mayflies clasp each other
in a kind of halo. City of Ghosts,
you can't abandon your history,
and it won't abandon you.
You watch each other,
you call each other's names.
The sidewalks, the driveways
gleam like quarried moon,
and each open hand repeats
the ambient light as the crickets
fill with heat and raise again
the street's last breath:
Turn me loose.

Jake Adam York, "City of Grace" from Persons Unknown. Copyright © 2010 by Jake Adam York.  Reprinted by permission of Southern Illinois University Press.

Source: Persons Unknown (Southern Illinois University Press, 2010)

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Poet Jake Adam York 1972–2012

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Subjects Nature, Landscapes & Pastorals, Social Commentaries, Cities & Urban Life

Biography

Poet and teacher Jake Adam York was born in Florida and raised in Alabama, the son of a steelworker and a history teacher. He earned degrees from Auburn University and Cornell, and was an associate professor at the University of Colorado-Denver. His books of poetry include Murder Ballads (2005), which won the Elixir Press Poetry Prize; A Murmuration of Starlings (2008), winner of the Colorado Book Award in Poetry; and Persons . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Nature, Landscapes & Pastorals, Social Commentaries, Cities & Urban Life

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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