For my morning reading, last time I was at the Albany Library I gathered up a handful of poetry anthologies. I thought I should just look at some new poems, even braced as I am against new poets. I was pleasantly surprised by the first poem in the book, by Meg Kearney, someone I’d never read.
for William Matthews
Bill hated the separation implied by the term.
“What’s this?” he’d ask, gesturing to what lay
beyond our classroom window. From “NAC” 6-303
in Harlem. Manhattan blinked an glowed like
the floor of stalagmite, lit by its own desire
to exist. What was it? Concrete, glass, steel–
meaning limestone, silica, gypsum, sand,
manganese, sodium, sulfur, ore–
anything unnatural here? Here, in the city, we
steel ourselves against the elements–steel,
from the Old High German stak, “to resist”–
and we fight like the animals we are for our
own little plot of privacy amidst all this
concrete (from the Latin, concret-us, past-
participle of con-crescere “to grow together”).
We’re too much together, and all the while we
go around like Adam and put a name to things,
just to say this is real, I exist in the world.
So we say “boulevard,” “taxi,” “skyscraper,” “villain”–
which used to mean you worked on a farm, but now
means you better have eyes in the back of your
head walking down the boulevard. “Be careful
going home,” Bill would say at the end of class. “It’s
a jungle out there.” Yes, we’d agree. Naturally.
Copying this out from Urban Nature: Poems About Wildlife in the City, I question some of the line breaks, but I do like it! It also sent me to the OED to look up villain, which did originally mean a rustic or a boor and only later took on its malevolent meaning.
And here’s a short (nature!) poem by William Matthews, as Meg Kearney dedicated hers to him. He must have been her teacher. City College of New York, now City University of New York, was in Harlem.
The long path sap sludges up
through an iris, is it new
each spring? And what would
an iris care for novelty?
Urgent in tatters, it wants
to wrest what routine it can
from the ceaseless shifts
of weather, from the scrounge
it feeds on to grow beautiful
and bigger: last week the space
about to be rumpled by iris petals was only air
through which a rabbit leapt,
a volley of heartbeats hardly
contained by fur, and then the clay-
colored spaniel in pursuit
and the effortless air
rejoining itself whole.