We Write Poems asked for this extensive note-taking process about repeated visits to a natural location, the meat of which could become a poem. Living in the heart of Manhattan, it is difficult to find any scraps of nature aside from Central Park (which hardly counts; you have to work to find them there), let alone get to them repeatedly and have them be quietly inspiring. So, I wrote about the High Line, the old elevated freight line that has become a park and tourist trap, since I walk home along it from time to time, and there wasn’t much else I could think of. I tried to hold to the prompt insofar as I kept the animism to a minimum and wanted to fix a particular seasonal moment in the nature bits mixed in. And then I made it into a sestina just because. Another day, there will be occasion to truly get out in nature and have some virgin wilderness inspire a poem or three; but until then, this will have to do!
High Line — October
This is the final afternoon of heat
before we balance the equation: soon,
abandoned by the sound of sparrow wings,
a silence will consume the pear and plane
arcades. The earth, unbaked, will come apart
like cookie crumbs in fumbling, knit-gloved hands.
We won’t despair, though. Singing, holding hands,
we’ll walk the West Side’s ragged edge. For heat,
the sun still has some lessons to impart:
on railroad skeletons, we’ll gather soon
to drink its mismatched light. We won’t complain
when warmth descends on rickety, narrow wings.
The city’s shadows freeze our marrow, wings,
inconstant voices, and our thieving hands.
But here, they’ve raised a rattle-snaking plain
to be the last redoubt of long-lost heat.
Pink muhly grass crisps brown; the asters soon
will be forgotten; fire will not depart.
It gets down in you, into every part
that shows off skin to kiss. The hallowed wings
of fleeing clouds have all gone east, and soon
we’ll thaw these pairs of old accordion hands
above our heads. Too cold to call this heat,
too beautiful with blood to call this plain.
Come walk on history with me. Explain
the origins of gardens. Build op art
from wood and metal, glass and fever-heat,
and plant it by these curbs. Stretch shallow wings
beneath your overcoat. Unfold these hands.
Some small awakening’s arriving soon.
Up on the tracks, it will be winter soon,
cracks in the frost appearing with each plane
inbound to Newark, each comet-trail that hands
us over to the sky. We could depart,
go southwards with the geese on arrowed wings
and seek some new un-citied source of heat:
but why complain? The heat of spring will soon
return. Til then, we part and raise our hands
with joy. This offered vein, our path, wears wings.