the rivers of it, abridged

New York City skyline at night




Philip Dacey

At the Statue of Liberty

Why had I not noticed before
how Lady Liberty’s right heel
is lifted, toes still on the ground,
so that from below and behind
one can see the sole of her foot?

And why is she doing that?
She doesn’t need to lift her heel
to hold the torch high enough
for all, near and far, to see.
Is she in forward motion?

How quietly dynamic
the lifted heel makes the posture
that would otherwise be static!
She is more dancer or athlete
Than settled, complacent icon.

Surely the lofty flame’s not where
her power resides; it’s in the lifted heel
we cannot see from the front.
It’s the semi-secret of the Lady,
something not lady-like.

Citizen, she says, keep
a heel lifted, so that the knee
pushes forward just slightly
under whatever you are wearing.
Democracy is a lifted heel.


For Aunt Mary, Who Jumped

My brother, a policeman, got the call
to come identify the body on
the street after Aunt Mary jumped.  The sill
she launched from, five floors up, was a white line

past which my brother’s partner poked his head
to say no accident, he’d found a note.
Few words. Why live, with Uncle Russell dead?
My brother never spoke about the sight.

Did Mary stand or sit or kneel before
she let go of everything solid at the last
and wrote herself forever on the air?
Of all the aunts, the sweetest, funniest.

Whenever I think of her, she jumps again
and mocks this poem, which reaches for her in vain.


Rondel for Bernard

My uncle Bernard froze off all his toes
sleeping under a bridge in wintry Detroit.
How things came to that, I’ve never figured out:
his warmth and wit were always my good news.

“Homeless” wasn’t then the word people would use;
Grandpa called him a bum, said, “Get out of my sight.”
My uncle Bernard froze off all his toes
sleeping under a bridge in wintry Detroit.

My mother tried to steer him straight.  Who knows
what might have helped him find a different route?
I think of the snow, the cold, the way the night
covered him as all roads began to close.
My uncle Bernard froze off all his toes.



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