Studies in the Dark
Lately Wislawa Szymborksa has been
meeting me in secret, after the streets
have withdrawn and this room has been dark
long enough to feel deserted.
The only poet I know, she appears
as bright scratches on solid blackness.
My wife sleeps, and the dog prepares
to bark before the silence fools him.
For an hour S tells me
more than I can understand.
Of history buried or overgrown,
the jokes it plays on the unsuspecting.
Incidentally she reminds me
of when I only knew poets,
and we spent hours in broad daylight
kibitzing and commiserating.
Later I lived as if I’d never read
a poem outside of a classroom
(while the poets found jobs
in classrooms, and moved away).
A forgivable lie, but pointless, she says.
You’ve seen what the world values.
From now on the only reason to hide
would be to further your studies in the dark.
She does not commiserate.
But her scratches of light offer direction
even when partly understood,
like constellations seen through a forest.
“. . . a gilded playground for the one percent . . . ”
– New York magazine
From miles away that unfinished tower
with the lopsided arrowhead top—
a starchitect’s project in that neighborhood
nobody asked for—reaches into our streets
to change a view that hasn’t changed
in the hundred years I’ve lived here
this walk home through the spring dusk
normally a chance to survey our prospects
Broadway’s curves along the old Lenape trail
the graceful procession of limestone and brick
this capital of an aging bourgeoisie
that has paid dearly to look the same
one century after another
elaborate stage set hinting of Paris
mirage reconstituting itself from
graying cloud and glowing twilight
a box we tuck ourselves into
and yet as we wander south
after another Friday dinner
the evening softens the arrowhead
construction lights hang like pearls
while the broad shaft blocking the horizon
insulting the eye
jolts our streets from their slumber
the long vista no longer a slide
in a hand-me-down stereopticon
if you stumble upon it right—
at this hour, in this light
A daughter and a boyfriend on a couch.
Grown up yet looking like students.
Laptop on each lap,
clutter of notes and documents.
One employed, the other about to be.
But not yet in the same city.
Still depending on the parents’ home
for a weekend together.
Still watched by parents, including
a father at a dinner table,
who notices: dead silence. For a while.
And worries: a spat? Or something worse?
Probably even they wouldn’t know,
needing to see how far the switchbacks
of attraction climb before
they can settle where they are.
Then the boyfriend talks; the daughter laughs.
Hunched over coffee and the paper,
the nosy dad misread a pause.
But not the weight their steps carry.
Their future could be starting now,
despite how little there is to see.
Just a couch in a living room,
their shoes in a jumble on the floor.
Matthew Flamm is a graduate of Columbia's MFA program and a longtime journalist in New York. He has been an entertainment reporter at the New York Post and a media, technology and transportation reporter at Crain's New York Business. His poems have appeared in The New Yorker, Poetry East, Hole in the Head Review Vol. 2 No. 2, and are forthcoming in Mudfish.