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Metro North

by
 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 inextinguishable, 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; whoever 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: ALIVE WITH PLEASURE.

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