First Grade Homework

By D. Nurkse D. Nurkse
The child’s assignment:   
“What is a city?”
All dusk she sucks her pencil   
while cars swish by
like ghosts, neighbors’ radios   
forecast rain, high clouds,   
diminishing winds: at last
she writes: “The city is everyone.”
       Now it’s time
for math, borrowing and exchanging,   
the long discipleship
to zero, the stranger,
the force that makes us
what we study: father and child,   
writing in separate books,   
infinite and alone.

D. Nurkse, “First Grade Homework” from The Rules of Paradise (New York: Four Way Books, 2001). Used by permission of Four Way Books.

Source: Poetry (August 1990).


This poem originally appeared in the August 1990 issue of Poetry magazine

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August 1990
 D.  Nurkse


D. Nurkse is the author of numerous collections of poetry, including The Rules of Paradise (2001), The Fall (2003), and The Border Kingdom (2008). His parents escaped Nazi Europe during World War II—his Estonian father worked for the League of Nations in Vienna, his mother was an artist—and moved to New York. Nurkse’s family moved back to live in Europe for a number of years, returning to the United States around the time of the . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Parenthood, Relationships, Activities, Youth, Social Commentaries, Cities & Urban Life, School & Learning, Living, Family & Ancestors

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

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