The City (1925)


Under this Luxemburg of heaven,
upright capstan,
                         small eagles. . . .
is the port of N.Y. . . . .         

gilders, stampers, pen makers, goldbeaters,

apprehensions of thunder
                           the whore

Tammany, McCoy,
the bonze doors of the Guarantee Trust,
the copper spandrels.

Orangerie and game room
with Old English tall twisted
stem engraved goblets
and Royal Copenhagen porcelain.

A mutton fat jade
Chien Lung
a toilet bottle
stopper & monogram shield.

A technical display.
You bought a perfume bottle
and a Chinese shawl.
Susannah set a headstone in St. Paul.

I’m inside waiting for a surprise
I’m in love with the girl on the Wabash
I’m alone with a hand in my hand
and a pair of wonderful eyes

but I’m blue
I have to speak
I want to do
I want to see
the sights obscure me
the facts secure me

The Maine sails out to sea
the undertaker drives to Hartford

Yesterday the ducks flew in a mackerel sky.
I had the allotropes of vision,
something historical at the controls
of North America,
heavyweight and metaphorical.

What are the facts?
they swept the city hall today
they set the lathe dogs
trimmed the tool posts
scraped the bearings
shellacked the knots,
they set the capital
upon the shaft.

Somebody has to drive the spikes
pitch the gears
oil the cams
somebody has to kill the whisky
somebody has to speak

What are the facts?


Inland is
the goat in open field.
The milk is marketed.
Attend our table.

The sand
             and fluorspar
and the soda ash
make a blue
                  aventurine glass
for this city,
                      a lion rampant
on his hind feet, royally
clawing, tail whipped up.


come, great city,
give us that old-time vaudeville

”During the water-movement
of the French horns
and the lovelace of a violin
a wire from my girl,
`I love you but I need a deposit.‘
Even the ventriloquist’s dummy laughed
after we combed his pretty red hair
and set him on his tricycle.“

Do you know the story of Sal?
She was a lonely little gal
with the lovelight in her eyes
and Mr. H. H. at the ivories
and she was happy (honest to God)

In the season of Romain effects
and synthetic American lights
she drove into a California suburb
in a high-compression gull-line Suiza
rolling her Klieg eyes
like revolving doors

whereupon the jackass
full of animal gas
floated blissfully
into the dance
of the seven veils,
yakking, ‘I have that
funny feeling again,
it must be love.’

Commentary: nothing
so marks the copulative man
as a corkscrew and a bottle opener.

Could you stand an old man
to a cup of coffee?
It’s hard walking
with this silver plate
in my head.

Come, great city,
                           you have full powers
of attorney to protect your friends.


Immigrants from Warsaw
move into a furnished room
close to the stores
under St. Chrysostom’s carillon
with a porcelain pitcher
and bath and hand towels
on the bed rails.
A new sign appears
in the ground-floor window:
Smocking, Hemstitching, Rhinestone Setting

Our hour from here
                            a loggia
above the pepper trees
a tiny cascade and vines
above the bath house
men and women driving
on the fairway, laughing

surrounded by Galloway
pottery, garden furniture
and white daisies.


When the light sprang from the sea, blowing,
the window sintered and blew like Venus
revealing my tenderness
                                    and many minds
the way a night shot
discovers a beast drinking
and my responsibilities
                                    eating me
as dogs eat gizzard.

I saw the city
set up like laboratory glassware,
amines of herring brine,
the malic acid of the sea buckthorn,
glass-enclosed prescription balance,
steel and agate, Fabrik Koln
a physics clear as alcohol,
La Vita Nuova, I hardly knew.

Creditors dined at the Cliquot Club,
they read the papers, trade changed.
Their horses died, the big-bellied;
their dogs slept in the steam heat.

An ambulance with modest
glass doors and a silver cross
keeps night watch:

                            A surgeon.
Delicate nickel-plated
instruments are laid on trays.

Illuminated on the operating table
                            naked glassblowers,
gunsmiths, barbers, clerks, importers,
old men from hotels, pink and tailored,
naphtha-smelling Irish priests,
cravat-and-boy face of the movie usher,
Frankel, Shmulik, Old Country watchmakers

then a white horse in the park,
cigars and politics.
The city wrapped in cellophane,
an act-born eggshape
                               twisted like Ugolino

one sea-water,
                      one circulatory system
of man observing his magnificent urea.
Carl Rakosi, “The City (1925)” from The Collected Poems of Carl Rakosi (Orono: The National Poetry Foundation, 1986). Used with the permission of Marilyn J. Kane.
Source: The Collected Poems of Carl Rakosi (National Poetry Foundation, 1986)
More Poems by Carl Rakosi