Tilted City


The things we passed by every day
outlasted us: comb-teeth scattered
in the gravel, bits of plastic from a laptop.

When our walls came down our shadows
vanished: centuries of slow corrosion,
not the action of our hit-to-kill

materiel. Before our windows all went black
we grew so tired; we wanted clouds for beds
and hills for pillows, valleys

where the very wolves would warm us
and adore us.


We walked our sons to parks down quiet lanes
and held them when their fear and shame
seemed everything.

We watched their unoffending legs
go flashing down the playgrounds
—boys: those keepers of the cold

white flowers, deep rememberers,
who stepped on grass and laughed,
their girl-limbs bright and pliable

as they climbed the blood-red rungs
and shuddered at the heights.


We wanted beauty in ourselves,
and sleep. Some wanted blood.
We wanted beauty in ourselves

and others’ blood. We wanted rest,
and others’ grief. We wanted terror
elsewhere, peace at home, the ceaseless

hiss of rain on leaves. The sky kept
going overhead, a lesson in exchange
we never learned. The roadbeds trembled

on the earth’s hot core, our shadows
lay down in the streets and slept.


We sent our circuitry over all the earth.
We sent our weapons, our machines.
Inside, we still were wet and animal;

inside, our boys were wet and animal,
and they climbed on metal bars
and shouted at the darkness. Every face

a cold white flower, hands electric
with the fervor of their play,
great creators of the moment,

establishers of paradise, fallers-down-on-grass,
fierce criers, pedallers, untried cadets.


We sent our certainty over all the earth.
We sent our idols, our latrines.
Inside, we still were dark and liminal;

inside, our boys were dark and liminal,
and they dreamed on blocks of foam
of seas they’d never seen,

of beaked and big-eyed swimmers,
and they’d wake up finned and razor-toothed,
they worshipped at the Church of Red

Imaginary Creatures, stingray boys in PJs
biding time until the sirens called their names.


Now the sifters’ nervous fingers find our stuff:
ballpoint pen caps, cellphone chipsets,
diapers, filings, clickers, toilet seats,

the petrified remains of hot-drink cups
and plastic bags, palimpsests of ads
and patents, hood medallions, dipsticks,

gaskets, nylons, Scrabble pieces, septic tanks,
Kindle cases, keypads, mounded bones of dogs
and cats, cables, jackets, piping, Tyvek,

copper flashing, slabs with writings on them,
diamonds, poisons, gold from domes . . .


We slept while fifteen hundred years
passed over us. No one living
knows our names, or what we saw,

or how it was with us. The sifters,
bending to their cuts and fills,
expose and comb and analyze,

but cannot speak to us.
So much obliterated love,
the scraped uncertain contexts,

the cold white flowers of our ankle bones
shining from the dirt.


(winner of the Editors’ Prize in Poetry for issue 21)