The City and Its Own

April 28, 2007 § Leave a comment

More poetry, anyone? This one is from last week, by Irving Feldman. It describes the New York I would have preferred to know, in the 30s and 40s. It’s from his collection Leaping Clear.

The City and Its Own

Among the absolute graffiti which
—stenciled, stark, ambiguous—command
from empty walls and vacant lots,
POST NO BILLS, NO TRESPASSING HERE:
age and youth—Diogenes, say,
and Alexander, dog-philosophy
and half-divine, too-human imperium—
colliding, linger to exchange ideas
about proprietorship of the turf.
Hey, mister, you don’t own the sidewalk!
Oh yeah?
Yeah! the city owns the sidewalk—mister!
Oh yeah! says who?
Thus power’s rude ad hominem walks all over
the civil reasoner, the civic reason.

Everyone has something.
Everything is someone’s.

The city is the realm of selves in rut
and delirium of ownership, is property,
objects made marvelous by prohibition
whereby mere things of earth become ideas,
thinkable beings in a thought-of world
possessed by men themselves possessed by gods.

. . .

So I understood at twelve and thirteen,
among the throngs of Manhattan,
that I dodged within a crowd of gods
on the streets of what might be heaven.
And streets, stores, stairs, squares, all
that glory of forbidden goods, pantheon
of properties open to the air,
gave poor boys lots to think about!
And then splendor of tall walkers
striding wide ways, aloof and thoughtful
in their nimbuses of occupation,
advancing with bright assurance as if
setting foot to say, This is mine, I
am it—and passing on to add,
Now yield it to you, it is there.
Powers in self-possession, their thinking
themselves was a whirling as they went,
progressing beyond my vista to possess
unthought-of worlds, the wilderness.

These definitions, too, have meant to draw
a line around, to post and so prohibit,
and make our vacant lot a sacred ground.
Here then I civilize an empty page
with lines and letters, streets and citizens,
making its space a place of marvels now
seized and possessed in thought alone.
You may gaze in, you must walk around.
—Aha (you say), conceit stakes out its clay!
—That is a cynic’s interpretation,
pulling the ground out from under my feet;
I fall, I fear, within your definition
which, rising and dusting off my knees,
civilly I here proclaim our real estate,
ours in common, the common ground
of self, a mud maddened to marvel
and mingle, generously, in generation.

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