Those battlements and crenellations cast
in stressed concrete and iron — ancient skins
of towers that our fathers’ fathers built —
are now reflected in a glass facade
that breaks them into ripples, so they look
as if they’d been submerged beneath a lake.
What’s underneath its surface — floating weeds,
mud-colored crayfish, pebbles, bass, and trout?
Or men and women working there who take
deep breaths until they surface to the light?
Do they swim down to cubicles and desks
with fine silt settling on suits and ties?
A pack of cars advances, then retreats
in drifts around the busses, cabs and trucks —
to no advantage — one car gets ahead
but falls back into scuffles by the time
the other drivers catch him at the light.
And then they’re off into another sprint
of sun spikes, shredding brakes, and bright exhaust.
Inside the pack a man is cycling.
He’s helmeted in top hat, wears a mask.
A tailcoat flaps behind his back. He seems
immune to challenges from running steel,
but tips his hat to cabbies blowing horns,
and waves to children strapped in safety seats
who point at doves perched on his handlebars.
A window washers' scaffold rests against
the glass and polished granite, slick with soap.
Above it, flags luff straight out in the wind,
untainted by the carpet of exhaust
that pools around the cabs and trucks below.
But even at this height the men can hear
the cars on fractured pavements and the pulse
of human traffic massing at the lights.
Banks and law firms form a solid wall
built on the bones of movie palaces,
where once I sat beneath projected beams
that flickered in the smoke from cigarettes.
We’d gather there among the broken seats,
the lovers drunk on images, the lost.
The Eastern Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute
The windows here are painted shut and barred.
All mobile phones and pens locked away,
and men who never smile patrol the halls.
A poster asks, How do you feel today?
and illustrates this question with arrays
of faces that show sadness, guilt, and rage.
Not one of these quite comes up to my own
stew of emotions, and I’ll tip my hat
to anyone who thinks they’ve found a match.
Do suicides show affect one can spot? —
before the act of course. Is there some face
I’ve passed by in a crowd that demonstrates
this principle? Can only God predict
the bearer is about to take the leap?
The couch inside the office lets out air
as I sink into the cushions’ sticky cloth.
It seems to me that time here has been stopped
at nineteen sixty-three. The furniture
is worn, but once was au courant. Someone
believed that my delusion could be made
much lighter with a little bit of style.
What confidence they had before the fall
in architecture, talk, and chemistry.
What keeps the staff returning here to work
each day with addicts, narcissists, and frauds —
momentum, innocence, or simply pay?
Reflected in the faces of them all
are signs their confidence has had its day.
A Ivy-League diploma has been framed
and hung above some photographs of dogs.
The frame is cheep, the education, not.
A woman comes into the room and drops
a stack of files. She offers up her hand.
And so another therapy begins
with all the standard questions, like my age,
the status of my marriage. I am free.
She asks me what’s so funny. I reply
It’s nothing. Now, all irony is lost.
Of course some things I never will reveal,
like how a dead man climbs into my bed
each night. He’s not a ghost; his touch is cold.
Each night the fine silt sifts into my mouth.