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The Fort, the Bridge, the Ferry

Helen Miranda Wilson, Big American Afternoon, 1987, oil on masonite


The Fort, the Bridge, the Ferry

A  woman is found in a suitcase, floating
in the Kill Van Kull.  The ferry is a floating prison.
Garbage barges haul out the entire
combustible mass of Manhattan.
Gulls go along for the ride, stabbing
at bottles, burning rubber, oily rags,
 the whole history of technology
as it decomposes.  We used to swim
by the Verrazano, but now submarines,
tall ships, nuclear cargoes whisper through.
From the fort, you can barely
make out the shanties of Bayonne,
a São Paolo of the North, the ship-building
yards, steel cranes, the soft-hearted citizens
of Kingston-Throop, songs of Jamaicans
who weave flower wreaths in Brooklyn
backyard gardens. By the air vent
to the Holland Tunnel, a man settles \his tug
and hopes for better weather, a case or two
of Schlitz down in the galley where a cook
shifts and turns in her sleep.  Marsh hawks
circle the railroad yards, cry for an end
to all the cheating, raping, running which makes
this city the capital of capital of all the world.
Seaweeds collide where the rivers
touch and push and breathe,
by the fort, the bridge, the ferry,
where the lady hangs out
her incandescent lamp for all
who want to give it one more try.


Flying over Iceland after the Summit

Somebody said they came to speak of peace.
Here in the land of lava flows
and smokeless cities,
they came, sat, stared, said little.
The soldier sitting next to me
says that during the dark months
ice can bloom by headlights.
He eats cod but dreams of the Bahamas,
talks of long nights that stretch out
into flatness, crusted core,
even the absence of evergreens.
He's falling asleep in my arms
as we fly and time goes backwards.
At 30,000 feet the air is thin
but cloudy over Rekjavík,
glaciers shifting under continents.
He's left his past down in that tundra cold
where a day is like nothing else.
At 30,000 feet we both head home
faster than the curved lure of the horizon
can swallow us or bear our weight.
In his sleep he smiles over the wife
he sees in curlers, bowling shoes,
kids digging blindworms in a garden.
He also dreams of cross burnings,
his words consumed by a preacher's fire
on elm-lined streets of Wilkesboro.
His wrists are as thin as mine
as we both approach the Arctic Circle
and the age of thirty, a deep gash
into an old world and the new.
The deeper he sleeps, the more he leans on me.

Published in The Quarterly, 1988