Today's poem is by Jason Myers


I .

Past the harbor stung by paddles and petroleum,
the city was on fire

and I was in my room writing letters to
love's diagnosis.

Over the sky, smoke stank and worked its wand—
dark magic of early fall

and I was in my room reading letters from N.
whose script was sand, dragged by waves but undiminished.


I have no dead to contact,
I'm the seance of the unclear.

You act, patriot, and I'll climb
the city tower—
it's down by next hour.

This is not the country any more,
now the city is made new.


When Eliot visited Paris
in 1910, he thought he might

"give up English and
try to settle down and

scrape along in Paris and
gradually write French."

So everyone thinks when
visiting Paris the first time.

Of course not everyone returns to Chaucer's china
and violently alters the settings.

The dream common to those afflicted by words:
to get lost in another tongue,

and in those licks,
cover the traces.


In the subway, an old man
who looks Prussian—

puffed cheeks and mustache
connected to mutton chops,

his eyes dark and small
as coal burned down—

smiles at me and,
noticing my button

from the art museum,
asks if I am a scholar.

I lie—
I tell him I am.


The desperate are with me tonight,
the gnarl-haired and blood-mouthed,

the anxious and the grieved,
the cotton-candy-eaters and the starved.

They walk with me across Columbus Avenue,
we are in search of spices,

we find bored stares, boarded windows,
people lighting cigarettes off children on fire.

But no coriander,
and no tenderness.

The desperate are with me and venomous,
because I've long been unwilling

to compare them to myself, lover of
empty beaches, the smell of bleach.

They are so much not me they are my shadow,
burned into every step I take.

We are desperate as termites
with no wood in sight.


The mascara of fire
drips from the city's eyes tonight.

Everyone is weeping,
everyone is losing vision to the night.

According to Proust, "sailors at sea used to catch
the glow of Flaubert's lamp as he worked

through the night, and take their bearings from it,
as if from a lighthouse beam."

In the distance, I see the city,
it is on fire, or perhaps filled with men and women writing novels.


The stars hang up
in the sky

like laundry done
some other lifetime,

dry as old paper,
impossible to touch.

I put my hand
into the fire

in order to
put out the fire.


The city is an idea,
the people in the city

have ideas, and the people
who live next to them in the city

have other ideas. Sometimes
they mix, sometimes they do not.

In the city I have ideas,
in the city I have no ideas but the city.

Terrible phallus, terrible fame:
the city is not to blame.

Gertrude Stein said Paris
was where the twentieth century happened

and in her mind she was right.
City of Light, City of Moulin Rouge,

City of Mud Fights, City of Salons—
Museé, Music, Mystique!

In my mind, Paris is a city,
but it is not the city.


The light on the water
is not the light of the world.

It is the world we have made,
the light of people looking

for love, or an earring,
or someone's number.

The water is God's shadow and surrender,
source and resource, the currency of two banks.

People are taking sides — Holy or unholy, rinsed by God or washed by Reason.


We were buried in our cities,
living in them like caves.

We were hurt, we were hurting,
emerging mornings with guns and cell phones.

We were buried in our cities,
we buried those we loved there,

the smell of that past boiled up
over the sidewalks, split our heads,

language was not our city,
our city was different languages,

Sacred and Scarred and Scared,
tunnels, alleys, high-rise and lowdown,

villages, neighbors, fruit stands,
nut stands, nuts, wards, wardens,

taxis, saxophones, sex shops, sandwiches,
savages, lecterns, gourmets, gorges—

the rubble of the city, its rubies.
We were buried in our cities,

we were laid down, our sleep was troubled,
and yet we dreamed, we dreamed our cities.

Copyright © 2005 Jason Myers All rights reserved
from West Branch
Reprinted by Verse Daily® with permission

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