City-dweller’s requiem

City-dweller’s requiem

Long corridors with pale yellow walls, down which dry leaves come hurtling by.

Desks with chalk marks, blackboards now greyish white.

The faint sounds of laughter and conversation.

Snatches of Shakespeare. Discussions on Dickinson.

Just behind walls, faces that could have mattered to me.

In another life, another time.

If I had chosen to push open these gates.

 

Instead, I have chased yellow butterflies across three states.

I have eaten creamy pasta and touched a napkin to my lips.

Past glass-fronted cafes, I have walked,

surreptitiously checking my reflection and adjusting my stole.

I have spent hours in cold storage, surrounded by others in similar boxes.

All of us being conveyed at a funereal pace to larger, colder storage boxes.

We don’t age. We don’t wrinkle. We don’t feel the wind in our hair.

We don’t speak our native tongues. The words live and die inside our throats.

 

Sometimes, on evenings such as these, I look through the glassed-up windows

(Oh, why is there so much glass? Glass, glass everywhere.

Showing you what you are missing. But offering no reprieve.)

I see, unseeing, the thousands of twinkling lights.

The dark, shadowy outlines of building tops.

(No canopies here, swaying in the breeze).

I smell the smell of rain on the earth.

I close my eyes and bite into a banana chip.

If I keep them shut, I tell myself, I can go anywhere.

 

Pretend worlds of green and brown spring forth around me.

Now I am walking down corridors paved by slanting rays of sun.

My hands drag across the wall, the peeling paint rough under my palm.

I slip into a room, where they are talking.

Five men and women on two shaky benches.

I slip in, unseen, unheard.

An engineer’s ghost in a literature class.

Soaking up greedily the words and their sounds.

Here, no bells will ring. No peon will come in, shuffling papers.

I can stay for as long as I like.

Perhaps even, forever.

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The View From My Window

The View From My Window

An ant crawling up the glass.

The dull grey expanse of sky. No clouds in sight.

The tops of buildings, half-constructed.

A patch of green, rich, tempting, like velvet.

Cars gliding in, cars gliding out.

And huddles of smokers, restless on their feet,

their figures slightly bent, pulled forward by intent.

Even the cars seem sure, so full of purpose,

that I feel life is passing me by,

as I sit here, behind a piece of glass.

But I am mesmerized by the view outside my window.

Hypnotized, like one is by fish tanks and terrariums.

I go back to the pretend games of old.

Turn into a microbiologist, watching fascinated,

a petri dish teeming with life.

At that moment, I am detached from what I see.

I could be an alien instead, so great is my wonder.

Or a boy of twelve in a darkened theater,

staring at a bright, flickering scene.

Or an idler at an exhibition, passing time,

staring at the frames, seeing, yet unseeing.

Knowing inside that it all means something.

But not seeing it, growing uneasy.

My phone rings, my table vibrates.

I feel relief, like a river rushing through my veins.

“Hello?” I say, already loving the caller.

My gaze dragged back to the dark indoors.

My attention my own again.

May

May
I cannot tell you how it was;
But this I know: it came to pass
Upon a bright and breezy day
When May was young; ah, pleasant May!
As yet the poppies were not born
Between the blades of tender corn;
The last eggs had not hatched as yet,
Nor any bird forgone its mate.
I cannot tell you what it was;
But this I know: it did but pass.
It passed away with sunny May,
With all sweet things it passed away,
And left me old, and cold, and grey.
: Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)
Christina Rossetti is one poet whose works I love without exception –I can’t say the same for Keats or Shelley or Browning. Her poetry is temperamental but still, beautifully poignant. The simplest, most unadorned phrases make so much meaning. Like Sylvia Plath said about her tulips, Rossetti’s words are like little hooks that catch onto mind and don’t let go.
I read “May” for the first time today and the variety of emotions she has managed to express through these two stanzas amazes me. There is love and loss… joy and sorrow.. fleeting nostalgia and bitter beauty… It has always amazed me that a human being can feel so much –such a myriad of emotions –to be able to put pen to paper and re-create them for others to share is truly art beyond measure.