A Perfect Mess

By Mary Karr b. 1955 Mary Karr

For David Freedman

I read somewhere
that if   pedestrians didn’t break traffic laws to cross
Times Square whenever and by whatever means possible,
      
the whole city
would stop, it would stop.
Cars would back up to Rhode Island,
an epic gridlock not even a cat
could thread through. It’s not law but the sprawl
of our separate wills that keeps us all flowing. Today I loved
the unprecedented gall
of the piano movers, shoving a roped-up baby grand
up Ninth Avenue before a thunderstorm.
They were a grim and hefty pair, cynical
as any day laborers. They knew what was coming,
the instrument white lacquered, the sky bulging black
as a bad water balloon and in one pinprick instant
it burst. A downpour like a fire hose.
For a few heartbeats, the whole city stalled,
paused, a heart thump, then it all went staccato.
And it was my pleasure to witness a not
insignificant miracle: in one instant every black
umbrella in Hell’s Kitchen opened on cue, everyone
still moving. It was a scene from an unwritten opera,
the sails of some vast armada.
And four old ladies interrupted their own slow progress
to accompany the piano movers.
each holding what might have once been
lace parasols over the grunting men. I passed next
the crowd of pastel ballerinas huddled
under the corner awning,
in line for an open call — stork-limbed, ankles
zigzagged with ribbon, a few passing a lit cigarette
around. The city feeds on beauty, starves
for it, breeds it. Coming home after midnight,
to my deserted block with its famously high
subway-rat count, I heard a tenor exhale pure
longing down the brick canyons, the steaming moon
opened its mouth to drink from on high ...

NOTES: Read the Q&A with Mary Karr about this poem

Source: Poetry (December 2012).

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This poem originally appeared in the December 2012 issue of Poetry magazine

December 2012
 Mary  Karr

Biography

Poet and memoirist Mary Karr was born in 1955 and raised in Texas. The author of several critically acclaimed books of poetry, including Abacus (1987; reprinted 2007), The Devil’s Tour (1993), Viper Rum (2001), and Sinners Welcome (2006) she is also the author of a trilogy of memoirs: The Liar’s Club (1995), Cherry (2001), and Lit (2009). Karr’s poetry and prose frequently include autobiographical elements, including her . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Social Commentaries, Cities & Urban Life

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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