A Prospect of Beauty and Unjustness

July 2008 WLT 
July 2008 WLT

I walk down Heerengracht,

where pigeons dip their necks

like question marks into the fountain.

Then left at Long, while the sun slips

 

Toward the sea and the moon takes its place

above Signal Hill.

Above me, starlings clatter

like typewriters.

 

Higher still, turning right at Wale,

seagulls tilt like white kites

against the wind.

 

I step on the old silences of the city.

 

Here is the place on the hill where artists came

for peace and the view of the harbour.

Below, the city reveals itself.

We still walk the neat streets of their paintings.

 

Under the angled mountain, its blue light,

the starlings are cold but, looking at them,

I see the loveliness

of their chaotic and coordinated hunger.

 

What can explain

this exact and unjust beauty?

 

 

 

 

The flock clusters at sunset for warmth and seed.

Poetry cannot be afraid of this.

 

Sketching the streets, the artists stood

on the burial ground of the city’s slaves.

In the paintings is something

of the private grief of their bodies.

 

In precise patterns the starlings follow one another

and redouble on their own flight-tracks,

slipstream of warmth,

blood-trace of the self.

 

Nothing to begin with,

and nothing again.

 

Around me, the air is thick with history.

Two hundred years ago,

slaves could no longer be sold.

 

Nothing, and nothing again.

 

I look again at the painted city, falling

silent at sunset, even the birds stilled.

In the last flash of the sun, the city gleams

white and hard as bone.

State College, Pennsylvania


Recommended Reading: