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