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Friday, 16 April 2010

Sonnet ("Five A.M. on East Fourteenth")


34th Street: photo by Rudy Burckhardt, 1978

Five A.M. on East Fourteenth I’m out to eat
The holiday littered city by my feet a jewel
In the mire of the night waits for the light
Getting and spending and day’s taxi cry.....The playful

Waves of the East River move toward their date
With eternity down the street, the slate sky
In Tompkins Square Park prepares for the break
Through of lean horses of morning.....I

Move through these streets like a lamplighter
Touch ragged faces with laughter by my knowledge
Of tragic color on a pavement at the edge
Of the city.....Softly in the deep East River water

Of dreams in which my long hair flows
Slow waves move.....Of my beginnings, pauses

Sonnet ("Five A.M. on East Fourteenth") from Stones (1969)


Curtis Roberts said...

It is so very good to read two fine New York City poems, which bring back all of that “crossing Fourteenth Street and heading downtown and east” feeling I used to know, even though the photos were obviously taken further uptown. I was on West 34th Street on Tuesday. That Tad's is still there and very little ever changes in the area (which I'm quite familiar with; my father's office was located on W. 35th) and nothing of importance, except that everything's in color now and looks worse.

TC said...


Thanks for being up early, and for being there.

When I wrote these two I was living on E. 14th between B and C. At dawn I would sometimes walk up to Second Ave. where there was an all night hamburger joint, always open at that hour. White Tower I guess it was?

The one below this, Daily News, records an evening on 13th St., near Second Ave. To get home from there I passed the open air fruit stands on First Ave. This is now remembered almost as Old World City life. Perhaps though it is still the same now. (But I would be a stranger however. As I suppose I was at the time of writing these, as well, come to think of it.)



Thanks for this glimpse out of the past, together w/ Rudy's pictures of people on the street . . . .


clouds in grey-white sky above shadowed
plane of ridge, motionless green leaves
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

leaving structure of leaves,
conditioned by things

as well as surface, picture
plane, objective view

sunlit white cloud to the left of point,
cormorants flapping across toward ridge

Anonymous said...

the drums at Tompkins
square park
the cinders from the Con Ed plant
at the river

something was going on
in the East Village

Anonymous said...

Auden in the snow
at St.Marks Place
by Avedon...
a Portrait in the National

poetry to be
from the slums

same territory as
14th street

TC said...

Well, Anon, I will resist enquiring as to your identity, but from these palpably informed comments it feels much as though we may have been perhaps, at least, familiars.

(Your words bearing a curious and pleasant echo... ?)

Yes, in that time I was indeed wedged in, for better or worse, between the drums and the cinders.

The barred windows to the fire escape proved no baffle to those Con Ed cinders, which, when the weather was warm enough to open a window, drifted in and coated everything with a fine patina of ash.

When at length I once had a visitor with possessions that appeared they might be of value, the bars were no barrier either to the downstairs junkies, who, while we were out purchasing a marriage license, drifted in and stole everything she owned.

And yes, the bleary dawns in the Park, amid the hapless idlers and sleepless freaks, feeding bread crumbs to the pigeons and watching the weak sun peep up through bare branches above the tenements.

Auden a wonderfully unlikely yet again oddly perfect grey drifter in that scene of ashes and distant drums.

(Whether now nearly a half century later there remains any poetry in poverty and slums I wouldn't know for certain but I would tend to doubt it, something about the curve of history maybe now impoverishing not just materially but in the broader domain of spirit, where a phrase like "Everything belongs to me because I am poor" may once have had a certain meaning, but now...?)

TC said...

And for equal time, let us leave out some bread crumbs also for Stephen's majestic

cormorants flapping across toward ridge

(ancient dusty city birds of course never possessing the fluid winged grace of presence of the birds of the shore...)