Sing! the men chant from the square. A woman sits on the statue of Lenin and strums a silver mandolin. There is center; there is periphery; there is a carousel spinning in the river like a miller’s wheel. People from across the world came to reclaim their losses from the museum, and then they decided to stay. If ever you need an umbrella, just go to the lost and found and say, I lost my black umbrella. When they ask Is this the one? answer, Yes! Thank God you found it, my treasure, my prize, my jewel of the Americas. This is the City of the Big Shoulders. This is Brotherly Love. These are Angels salt-packed in tin. The woman on the statue sings for days—city, my love. We hear it and it is true.
We eat lunch in Jaffa, where the streets are the color of dust shaken from a sparrow’s wing. I hold an orange in my hand and listen to the call to prayer falling from the minaret. Cucumbers sliced thin on bone-glassy china. Fish on ice in Reading Terminal stacked like shiny railroad ties. In my hand, the orange peels—a little at first, rind skinning itself from muscle-colored segments of flesh. In the history books, a child dies at every turn in the Tiber. The museum and its wall of eyes. The salt air settling in the veins of the orange. Whittling through us like a prayer.
I read a story about revolutionaries catching black dogs and hanging their dead bodies from light posts. When they ran out of black dogs, they started painting any dead dog black, splattering their rhetoric across the city, across the body of anything with enough muscle to support its own skin. But this was just a story I read, a fiction that even said as much. I read another story about an immigrant in Chicago who began to vanish. And another about a man who returns to Philadelphia and finds they burned part of it down. Last night, I read a story about a man who can’t build a fire and dies in the cold: the city that stills us all, with its slow moving trains and its arctic-brilliant nights.
City of anvils. City of rotten figs. City whose ground shakes like a bedsheet on the laundry line. City of heartflies. City like a doe’s tail snagged by thistle. City of forts in the woods. Our city of dictionaries. Our city of prayers in bottles. Thin-wristed city. Alibi city. City of the gospel of empty ballot boxes. Stained glass city. Rose-quartz city. City of coin collectors and unkempt legislators. City of endless airplay. City I track by its limping gait. City like a harp’s dusty strings. City like an unbuckled belt. Frontier city. Port city. Parable city. City where we gathered under summer’s shade of flies. City where every bell we rang couldn’t help but break.
Ryan Teitman is the author of the poetry collection Litany for the City, winner of the A. Poulin Jr. Poetry Prize and forthcoming from BOA Editions. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Journal, Ninth Letter, and The Southern Review. He is currently a Wallace Stegner Fellow in Poetry at Stanford University.