Metro North

written by

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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:

© Mark Doty