Two posts in one day– only the second time I’ve done that, I think!

No sightseeing or gallivanting about for me in New York today, even though it was Sunday. I had to do a lot of work. Writing, reading, organizing all the photos and notes I took yesterday, and bummed about the rain this morning and the sticky heat this afternoon. Sigh.

At about three I decided to take a break and walked over to Brooklyn Bridge Park, just 3 blocks away from where I’m staying. It was really lovely, restorative even: the Manhattan skyline across the East River, planted firmly against the blue sky and clouds, the Brooklyn Bridge soaring above my head, straddling these two islands. Happy people everywhere, playing in the kiddie fountain, eating ice cream, playing basketball, just laying on the grass freshened by the morning’s rain.

When I got back to my cheerless dorm room, grumpy about having to get back to work, I checked my Facebook feed one last time. There I was delighted to discover a poem by Sharon Olds that had been posted by the Society for the Study of American Women Writers. It struck a chord with me for reasons that will be obvious once you read it. On this longest day of the year, I hope it reaches you as it reached me.

Summer Solstice, New York City

By the end of the longest day of the year he could not stand it,
he went up the iron stairs through the roof of the building
and over the soft, tarry surface
to the edge, put one leg over the complex green tin cornice
and said if they came a step closer that was it.
Then the huge machinery of the earth began to work for his life,
the cops came in their suits blue-grey as the sky on a cloudy evening,
and one put on a bullet-proof vest, a
black shell around his own life,
life of his children’s father, in case
the man was armed, and one, slung with a
rope like the sign of his bounden duty,
came up out of a hole in the top of the neighboring building
like the gold hole they say is in the top of the head,
and began to lurk toward the man who wanted to die.
The tallest cop approached him directly,
softly, slowly, talking to him, talking, talking,
while the man’s leg hung over the lip of the next world
and the crowd gathered in the street, silent, and the
hairy net with its implacable grid was
unfolded near the curb and spread out and
stretched as the sheet is prepared to receive a birth.
Then they all came a little closer
where he squatted next to his death, his shirt
glowing its milky glow like something
growing in a dish at night in the dark in a lab and then
everything stopped
as his body jerked and he
stepped down from the parapet and went toward them
and they closed on him, I thought they were going to
beat him up, as a mother whose child has been
lost will scream at the child when its found, they
took him by the arms and held him up and
leaned him against the wall of the chimney and the
tall cop lit a cigarette
in his own mouth, and gave it to him, and
then they all lit cigarettes, and the
red, glowing ends burned like the
tiny campfires we lit at night
back at the beginning of the world.

–Sharon Olds, Strike Sparks: Selected Poems, 1980-2002 (Alfred A. Knopf, 2004)


3 thoughts on “A New York poem for a New York Sunday

  1. Wow! I haven’t read this one. Thank you. I was hoping for a Jean Lee Cole poem, but this Sharon Olds poem is a beauty.


    1. I’ll try to get back to writing poems– at least one more poem– before I go back into the trenches this fall. Thanks for the nudge … and … happy anniversary! 🙂


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