Today's poem is by Tess Taylor

Some Thoughts on the Bergen Street Renaissance

Out one of my windows, at a diagonal,
catty-corner across my small backyard,
there had been an empty lot for years,
empty in the sense there was no house there.
It did have ragweed, vetch, clematis,
some limber, clambering ailanthus:
not a formal landscaping exactly,
but good enough a space for tabby cats.
A sleek orange one particularly liked it.
She had a sunny log she'd come to preen on.
Beyond her perch for years I used to see
another lot for yellow taxicabs,
a sloping row of brownstones, and above them
the spire of Brooklyn's big clock tower.

The clock tower is a funny thing.
It's Brooklyn's only shot at high-rise grandeur.
It was built in '29, and after that
investments in the city all dried up.
Of the two faces of it I could see
I don't remember any time that both times matched.
Orange lights flare on at dusk, and then
the clock's red neon hands light up
and flicker, sometimes sputtering a second.
It seems one hand is always burning out:
The other ones go round as best they can.
The broken wheel is generally correct,
relative to itself, a good approximator.
I'd keep an eye on it from my old writing desk.

When I was poorer, and before I had a watch,
or even really aimed to have a job
I had the lot and clock outside my window,
two versions of the time, for consultation.
The clock reigned over all the weedy ruin,
somehow unable quite to rein it in.
I used to make a point of musing on it.
For what dominion does a clock's time keep
over cardinals feeding in the trees?
In spring, there'd be a weedy plant (forsythia, I think)
half tangled in a chain-link fence, that sprayed
sharp yellow blossoms out—the first I'd see.
They'd peek out at a different week each year.
That week, the lot was one big yellow jungle.

It hardly felt like living in New York.
Meanwhile, out my other window
was some old warehouse with a sagging cornice,
its ornamented brass gone green with age.
A tree-of-heaven had fanned out on the roof,
and at dusk it seemed to rake the evening in.
Sometimes, out of the blackened windows,
groups of pigeons startled, catching glints
of bricky sunset on their pale gray stomachs.
They'd swoop like that in one big arching flock
before settling down as silhouettes in branches.
I watched it happening on many nights.
They made a lovely arc above the crumbling
geometries of Brooklyn. City life, inside of city death.

And I know I seem a bit nostalgic
for some run-down version of the neighborhood.
It's not the neighborhood I grieve for.
And I know decay is fashionable, I know
that aged brick has cachet, like faded denim,
as if we're proud of places with some scars.
But mine's the only poverty I'm free
to speak of fondly. I'm speaking of
my own ambivalence, a sweet memento mori:
A time and view I had once,
some months I spent considering the way
a kind of nature can reclaim a place
the way we'll all be reclaimed in the end.
I didn't want much else then.

But those seasons couldn't last forever.
The neighborhood's become spruced up around me.
The warehouse will be condos soon. All fall
an orange tractor came and dug the lot
and now bricklayers come at seven sharp.
I used to wake up angry at the noise.
My view, my view, I'd say. Where is that cat?
But where she sat, are ten new living rooms.
I expect they'll be completed by the summer.
I wonder where the cardinals will get to.
But I am also home far less for musing now,
for watching clouds puff up across the sky.
I've got my jobs to go to, and less time.
I've got a clock inside. And keep to it.

Copyright © 2004 Tess Taylor All rights reserved
from Southwest Review
Reprinted by Verse Daily® with permission

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