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Metro North

Written by: Mark Doty | Biography
 | Quotes (1) |
 Over the terminal,
 the arms and chest
 of the god

brightened by snow.
 Formerly mercury,
 formerly silver,

surface yellowed
 by atmospheric sulphurs
 acid exhalations,

and now the shining
 thing's descendant.
 Obscure passages,

dim apertures:
 these clouded windows
 show a few faces

or some empty car's
 filmstrip of lit flames
 --remember them

from school,
 how they were supposed
 to teach us something?--

waxy light hurrying
 inches away from the phantom
 smudge of us, vague

in spattered glass. Then
 daylight's soft charcoal
 lusters stone walls

and we ascend to what
 passes for brightness,
 this February,

scumbled sky
 above graduated zones
 of decline:

dead rowhouses,
 charred windows'
 wet frames

around empty space,
 a few chipboard polemics
 nailed over the gaps,

speeches too long
 and obsessive for anyone
 on this train to read,

sealing the hollowed interiors
 --some of them grand once,
 you can tell by

the fillips of decoration,
 stone leaves, the frieze
 of sunflowers.

Desolate fields--open spaces,
 in a city where you
 can hardly turn around!--

seem to center
 on little flames,
 something always burning

in a barrel or can
 As if to represent

dogged persistence?
 Though whether what burns
 is will or rage or

harsh amalgam
 I couldn't say.
 But I can tell you this,

what I've seen that
 won my allegiance most,
 though it was also

the hallmark of our ruin,
 and quick as anything
 seen in transit:

where Manhattan ends
 in the narrowing
 geographical equivalent

of a sigh (asphalt,
 arc of trestle, dull-witted
 industrial tanks

and scaffoldings, ancient now,
 visited by no one)
 on the concrete

embankment just
 above the river,
 a sudden density

and concentration
 of trash, so much
 I couldn't pick out

any one thing
 from our rising track
 as it arced onto the bridge

over the fantastic
 accumulation of jetsam
 and contraband

strewn under
 the uncompromising
 vault of heaven.

An unbelievable mess,
 so heaped and scattered
 it seemed the core

of chaos itself--
 but no, the junk was arranged
 in rough aisles,

someone's intimate
 clutter and collection,
 no walls but still

a kind of apartment
 and a fire ribboned out
 of a ruined stove,

and white plates
 were laid out
 on the table beside it.

White china! Something
 was moving, and
 --you understand

it takes longer to tell this
 than to see it, only
 a train window's worth

of actuality--
 I knew what moved
 was an arm,

the arm of the (man
 or woman?) in the center
 of that hapless welter

in layer upon layer
 of coats blankets scarves
 until the form

constituted one more
 gray unreadable;

was lifting a hammer,
 and bringing it down
 again, tapping at

what work
 I couldn't say;
 whoever, under

the great exhausted dome
 of winter light,
 which the steep

and steel surfaces of the city
 made both more soft
 and more severe,

was making something,
 or repairing,
 was in the act

(sheer stubborn nerve of it)
 of putting together.
 Who knows what.

(And there was more,
 more I'd take all spring
 to see. I'd pick my seat

and set my paper down
 to study him again
 --he, yes, some days not

at home though usually
 in, huddled
 by the smoldering,

and when my eye wandered
 --five-second increments
 of apprehension--I saw

he had a dog!
 Who lay half in
 half out his doghouse

in the rain, golden head
 resting on splayed paws.
 He had a ruined car,

and heaps of clothes,
 and things to read--
 was no emblem,

in other words,
 but a citizen,
 who'd built a citizen's

household, even
 on the literal edge,
 while I watched

from my quick,
 high place, hurtling
 over his encampment

by the waters of Babylon.)
 Then we were gone,
 in the heat and draft

of our silver, rattling
 over the river
 into the South Bronx,

against whose greasy
 skyline rose that neoned
 billboard for cigarettes

which hostages
 my attention, always,
 as it is meant to do,

its motto ruby
 in the dark morning: