THE WHITMAN ISSUE
TO BE IN NEW YORK
is to teeter on the blowy deck of the Empire
State building at dusk and surge with the city upward,
snapping on like lights in all directions,
in office buildings, apartments, steel-girded banks,
glass hotels, immense rectangular nails
hammered with crossword windows, peering
at perpendicular streets punctuated by red tail lights,
yellow cabs, bloated buses, trucks,
taking in the honk of it, the serpentine sirens,
and looking straight down, body electrified
by the rush, this tireless something rising
up walls and legs and hair, all of it standing on end
to begin again, a vehicle, a tourist in one’s own town
in love with the signs, the marquees, parades,
newspapers twirling down wide avenues
held in the fluid arms of the East and Hudson,
and standing on the open palm that is Manhattan,
Liberty’s torch calling our ancestors,
our family names, perforated ticker tape.
How we bob, pencils in the blind man’s cup,
spin like pennies before flattening in the street.
I love you, gritty city of strangers and strangeness,
anonymity and neighborhood, brightness and drear,
cold and steam-shot, gray puffs leaping up
from the grates, bearded, baggy, eloquent
as a carriage clipping through the park.
See where the sidewalks crack and shine.
See the blunt trees pushing through them.
The park darkens, the bridges begin to twinkle
as children tune their boxy rooms to the soliloquies
of pigeons on a ledge, a water tower sloshing,
the subway rumbling, a hundred million thoughts
swizzling into overburdened streets.
If I stand shoulder to shoulder and do not speak,
I dwell in the intimacy of crowds, the faces
I will never learn, survival threading its weedy song
through the hurry, the hustle, the ribs of fire escapes
shuddering on walls. Shadow play of shadows,
you, beautiful city, are the switchboard
for the greatest mountains made by men.
You are haiku and testament, volts and stanzas,
Whitman in the upper world, bard among factories.
Christina Daub co-founded and co-edited The Plum Review, an award-winning national poetry journal, and co-founded and co-directs The Plum Writers Retreat, an annual poetry conference. Her work has appeared most recently in The Cortland Review, The Connecticut Review, and Fulcrum. She has forthcoming poems in the anthologies 180 More and History of the Paradelle, both edited by Billy Collins. She teaches at The Writer's Center in Bethesda, MD, in the Maryland Poet-in-the-Schools program and in the Arlington Public Schools' Pick-a-Poet program.
Read more poems by Christina Daub