In Small Cities or Large Towns

The world appears more clearly in some places than
In others: like the things created step aside
And the invisibility beneath it all
Becomes a second presence floating in the street.
In neighborhoods untouched for half a century:
Smell of bread from the factories, smell of grass from
The cemetery. Down the block an elderly
Pair—husband and wife? brother and sister?—grow vines
Outside their house to make wine. They are the
Last ones, and there will be no others. Families
Move out and new ones move in. Childhood homes get new
Façades and storefronts change hands at the whim of time
And money. Everything is new and everything
Is old too; as if it were always so; as if
The planners wanted the paint on the houses to
Peel, fences to rust, flowerpots to spill black dirt.
Look at the air above the trainyards—avenues
Of silence coursing through the houses and the trees.
The men on break grasp lunch between their oily hands
And nurses in their scrubs sleep waiting for the bus.
And pavement smells rise up from underfoot, the street
Warmed by reflections of the cloudy sky that shine
Within a thousand squares of dingy windowpanes.

The world has eyes and has a mind, has memories
And hopes and dreams. These neighborhoods are like things locked
Inside a cabinet from long ago, removed,
Remembered for a time, then locked away again.

When We Were Poor

When we were poor with potted plants
To liven up the empty rooms
And take the place of all the things
We didn’t want or couldn’t own

We lived amid the blasted lots
And told our secrets to the skells
And always left our doors unlocked
There wasn’t anything to steal

We lived on air and bubbled beer
Champagne when friends had some to spare
And empty bottles lined the bed
And nothing changed, and I was glad

Rooms Like This

I’ve spent my life in rooms like this,
Fluorescent, humming, emptying—
Like laundromats too late at night
Or restaurants before they close.

Or bars where no one ever goes,
Or midtown delis after work—
A secret place of silent men
All waiting for the rain to end.

I’ve spent my life asleep on trains,
I’ve dozed in public plazas where
The guards nudge you awake and say
“You can’t sleep here, you can’t sleep here.”