On A Film Clip Of New York City From 1911
Most people are slender. The air is bright and thick
behind them: men walk in dark suits, women
often in white, waists nipped tight, black parasols.
Overheated children squint from roofless autos
that share the avenues with trolleys and horses.
Horse poop, in fact, is everywhere. No one drives
around it. Smoke and steam rise from the chimneys
of boats and buildings. A wall of ivy shimmers
on a church. Chinese grocers, a remembered smell
of ripe peaches and dill weed: fifty years from then,
fifty years before now. (In the shade of a shop with
my grandmother, a hot afternoon, dollars counted
into her hand, chicken breasts, salad. The black
sheen of my grandfather’s car.) Edwardian high
windows, the brickwork around them not sooty yet.
(The train home carrying me past those tenements,
the news in my lap, during Watergate.) No one’s still
alive, but a riverside breeze moves the trees. I smell
creosote and the distant ocean. Walking across
Brooklyn Bridge, two teenaged boys—one white,
one black—hold hands, turn to smile at the camera.
Editor’s Note: The meticulous punctuation of this poem emphasizes its careful narrative. The slow movement from past to present is almost unnoticed until the last line drops into view.