For Mary Clark
There is an edge big cities have. I sense it
even in this airless ground floor hotel room
with its net-curtained windows that are locked
‘For your Safety and Peace of Mind’. Outside,
on the pavement below the window
is a beggar, cross-legged. He and the street
furniture are the only still things
in the broad avenue of six-lane traffic
and seemingly innumerable
and unstoppable humans of all ages,
conditions, ethnicities, and genders.
When I lie on the bed I can hear beneath me
the timetabled and metallic rhythms
of the metro; imagine the carriage lights
flickering on the tunnel walls; the strangers’
faces, alert, circumspect, preoccupied.
A week ago, I passed a school of dance.
Through the open skylights I could hear
the rehearsal piano, and the soft fall
of nubile ballet shoes on a sprung floor.
Returning to my hotel, I wandered
through a street market, and watched two young men,
with up-country accents, who were selling –
from the back of a horse box, unmarked
except for spatters of drying yellow mud –
a large stuffed black bear and a penny whistle.
Yesterday, among residential streets built
when empires were official, and the clerks
who kept their ledgers rented houses here,
I came by chance to one where an exiled
poet had lived and died. Trying to reach
the border with her small son, pursued
by armed frontier guards through a forest,
he had been shot, and bled to death in her arms.
I remembered lines from the only poem
she had published about this city:
…a place, for me, of possibilities
and fear. I cannot imagine its borders.
I cannot walk home. There is an absence,
a melancholy, a wistfulness,
a nostalgia: as if I had just missed
something special – a window unobtrusively
made fast, a door easing shut; someone’s
library glimpsed from a passing bus;
the surprise of a marble statue
of a child behind a neglected park’s
locked gates; above abandoned warehouses
and wharves, an unwarranted sunrise.