I know the city was made at night, I saw
It constructed, out of weightless beams
With tools grasped in the twisted white
Light from the scarred and sacred moon--
Awatch, hung, not far in the dark region,
To be replaced by a gaunt streetlamp,
Primitive and graceful,
Presiding in the lunar park
And repeated, like a symbol, up and
Down the broad and ruinous avenues.
I saw them reason . . . pacing the lots,
Draw with chalk across the frozen mats;
I saw the counterfeit in the silent cars.
The art is direct, it is total concealment.
To place in storage incorporeal things--
Ransacking the dead landscape,
Finding uses for everything--
To make an industry, a working city
Out of the fond and meaningful rubbish,
Left in the yard, discovered on the beach,
In a desperate dusk or lunatic spring,
Revealed by the loss of winter snows,
Contended for in the clearing winds;
Literal junk in a poverty of light--
The mud, trampled, the fences, down,
All the shapes of a lyrical confusion;
These meaningful things, these toys,
Old picnic tables and fishing poles
Upended, turned, extended, studied--
An exhortation, become a fabulous building
Full of men, the workers, themselves,
Engaged in minor chores.
I saw this activity, this chaos, the
Cause for the utterly human city;
I watched them fabricate instant ruins
With determination and magic arts.
And I saw the men, glowering and pale,
Number their tools and manuals,
Publish their symbols--to wait upon
The pleasures of a grim anonymity;
To walk without the sun on their backs,
Unwatched, alone, busy, lamenting;
To excise pain, take clarity from shadows,
To create the death of the moving sun.
The sun, which for humor, was painted
Omnivorous and rotund, worshiped again,
Rising in the dome of the opera house.
And I am so impressed by this event, I
Can merely keep walking, for my wisdom
Is reiterate, it is dazzlingly finite,
Proven and correct at every step. And
I saunter like a fool down the broad,
Barricaded avenue, immodest, intense,
Thinking about the daylight in the city.
There never was a beginning to this,
Just a crisis in the memory--
No land of discovery, only a field
Whose origins lay wasted, partial forms
Of understanding, esoteric skills,
A personal night
Deeper than thought, longer than history.
Just distraction, a fit, bolting from
The room or the pretended dwelling--
A backward or an alley to wander around in
Neglectfully, scouring the dim ground,
Picking up chairs and misplaced equipment.
And that is where this exile finds
Its fortunes, working under cover,
Sheltered in the night, raising the city
Around oneself, upon the margins
Of the arena--so deep in its center
The unresolved scene can occur
Or stand, imprisoned and preserved:
The yellow and green living room,
The many simple exhibits--
The table, a lamp, an empty chair
Regarded, piously, turning from the
Mantle and the adjacent mirror . . .
The whole city is just a visible map,
Something to make while
Planning the route back . . .
I saw how carefully they put in the posts,
Bound and plastered the walls,
Laid in courtyards and passageways--
So when the yellow windows showed
In towering folds of darkness, in lanes,
The many strangers, themselves, that roam,
Could look in, could gaze, see the
Detailed interior of the lost reality.
So it is merely an elaboration,
The nice history of a private conceit
When I stride, when I lapse,
When I hope, or meander, or saunter down
The streets of the false and physical city,
Among its jagged horizons, glass towers,
Its neutral shadows and inert forms,
The stalls that display the same old tools,
Axes and prongs, geometric utensils
Wielded in a dream--the long hallucination
Of a brave insomnia, last year or century--
The city proud in its power and misery;
The city that is a series of exit signs
Ladders and ramps and logical gardens,
Exploding machines, bombs in drawers,
Signatures in wax, directions for traffic,
Black fire escapes, stairways in the earth--
And the workers who prepared this dawn,
An imagined class of men, asleep and roaring.
Illustration by Douglas Lazarus "City Limits"
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