the rivers of it, abridged

New York City skyline at night




Michael T. Young


There it is again: something at the periphery,
something offering itself as part of the assemblage.
It might be a translucent drape frosting the worlds
on both sides of the glass, or an air clot bubbling up
into a water tank like a thought leaking in, assuming
the reality of its seamless body, the way the dark
leaves no loose thread to pull at, to unravel the patchwork
of private hibernations.  So I find myself staying up later,
examining textures of night: the sound of radiators
ticking on, cracking their rusty knuckles, or a leak
collecting drops in a slow depletion, smelling or imagining
I smell the oxide in these throats, and over it all—
the room, the rooftops, the buzzing telephone
and television wires—arcs the chemical sky of Jersey
like a great industrial womb, smelling of grease
and coffee, humming deep in its pipes and tanks,
nourishing the sodium lamps, its insulated metals,
the dumb pulse of its steam and cranks.


Lessons from the Storm

I followed my tribe to the edge of things
where the land was dredged up
by the splash of disorder and sea foam.

When we returned to our homes,
from the lessons of daylight,
spume and rage, having learned nothing,

the water followed us, crawling
into our basements, shorting out
power stations, floating cars

through streets in a river of oil
and broken trees, taking back leaf
by leaf the gift under our feet.



From under his tangled beard,
the bookstore owner said, Without Bach
I never could have survived a New York summer.
And if his beard reminded me of ivy,
the comparison is a fugue,
the same theme in a different voice,
the way that, later, in the park,
cloud shadows broke into sunlight,
and this, in turn, cast tree shadows
that lengthened through the grass,
and that tangle of tree shadows
was like a tangled beard.
And this thematic variation
was counterpointed when I left the park,
the city bristling with sirens, jackhammers,
and horns, and at the corner,
a construction worker napped in a bulldozer,
a tangled beard against his chest,
hardhat tipped over his eyes,
and through the cabin windows
the faint sound of a Bach Cello Suite.



Back to Poetry