A city grew out of where I lived,
full of voices,
full of bouncing on the box spring.
It kicked stray dogs in the teeth
but worshiped whatever lurked inside its cracks.
It was loud on its feet
and lost a lot of blood when the moon came out.
The city listened in.
It figured me out.
It said “Sorry, no work,”
as it chiseled out slabs of stone
to honor some long-dead gangster.
But it never cooked enough
so it could feed everyone.
And nor was there ever enough warmth
so its inhabitants could sleep.
The city just sprawled away from my chair
in the small kitchen
of my second-floor apartment.
Whatever promises it made to me
were undone like my bed.
FROM THE TOP OF THE TOP FLOOR
Game board streets.
Taxis like moving pieces.
Factories below smoking cigarettes.
This is the highest of the high-rises.
Lungs feels like they’ve climbed ten thousand feet.
But here I am – eyes in the clouds,
elbows in the wind –
up fifty stories.
Hats off to the architect
with his inflated dreams.
And the construction crew of course.
And the electricians. And the plumbers.
There’s power and water all the way up here.
All adding to my vision.
All making me this human sky-cam.
I pity the generation
addicted to social media.
Is that a pavement down there
or a cell phone screen?
Their awe will pay for it in the end.
Such a small price to pay to ride the elevator
but the pettiness of talking to a friend prohibits.
So here I am, top floor, delirious with
the kind of fever
doctors cannot classify.
Look at those overworked corporate-slaves below.
Those ants must surely be cursing their luck.
They can’t even get out of the city’s shadow
while all I have to contend with is my own.
So how long can I stay up here?
Vertigo’s no issue.
I’m sure I’m part mountain goat.
And the spectacular never wearies me.
Only my ordinary life does that.
Yes, I will have to rejoin it eventually.
That’s the far shore, the cruel one,
Jackhammers crack open a sidewalk two blocks away
to get at civilization’s mysterious underworld.
It’s the necessary noise of living in this age.
It’s the sound of the car engine, the cries
of lovemaking, the hellos of people who vaguely
know each other, the loud music some need
in their lives to compensate for how little
impact they’d make on the world without it.
I imagine a city in which we were all deaf.
How well we’d need to know our fingers.
Eyes would follow hands as we each spelt out our needs, our desires.
No worry about being shaken out of sleep
by the pounding of our surrounds.
I’d really want to have you in my presence
for your sense to get through to me.
Can’t you just see it.
In fact, that’s all you could do –
our hands flapping like wings,
a dainty twirl of the thumb,
a slight cock of the index finger
bringing such a smile to your silent lips.
But I would miss the symphonies and the jazz
and the lilt in your voice of course.
So I must endure the worst of buses
to get at the resonance of the heart.
Honking horns, screaming neighbors –
they’re archaeological digs
scouring down to the timbre of the true treasure.
The phone rings – another necessary evil.
Your warm greeting vindicates one sense at least.
All kinds of noise in the background.
For now, at least, it knows its place.
John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in New Plains Review, Stillwater Review and Big Muddy Review with work upcoming in Louisiana Review, Columbia College Literary Review and Spoon River Poetry Review.
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