A Prayer (O City—)
O arrow landed deep in Harold’s eye—
pressing upward against the sky—
O light and steam.
(When the western windows
of the City go pink, the rooms behind them
lock shut with clouds.)
(Slipping down in the morning
to part around the skyrises, to marble
the rooftop shanties and gardens,
the hammocks and clotheslines.)
And graying water tanks—
(Our water lifted
into the clouds—and me, drawing it
down into my cup, my breath
pressed to the shimmering surface.)
(That breathes itself
into the glass—that pulls me to the window
I press my gaze through,
I press my face to—)
(And the makers,
who drew the City through the membranes
of paper and canvas,
giving the city to the City—)
(And our tables and demitasses,
woofers and fire escapes,
kisses in doorways, weapons
and sculptures, concerts
and fistfights, sex toys and votives,
engines and metaphors—.)
City of Joists—
(The City shot through with them.)
City of Doorways—
(The City opens us,
and we step through.)
(Since you’ve opened the fridge,
opened your book, opened your room
to the room next door.)
(Pushing through the dark
like the nose of a plane.)
(It could be a bomber,
night-black, the instruments on auto,
the pilot asleep in his lounger.)
(In the hull below, words
are written on the bombs in Sharpie.)
(There’s also a folder of letters lying off to the side in the dark.
In one of them, the pilot’s brother describes some fingerprints he’s
found pressed inside the lip of a broken jar.
He’s an archeologist. The prints are from the jar’s maker—just after
the Battle of Hastings, near the end of the eleventh century.)
The City in its ball rolled forward—
(the same City that, in its jar,
had engulfed the hill).
The City was the wall I lay on,
then the City
was the voice I spoke into.
When gunmen exchanged fire
across my yard, the City
filled the bullets, which so briefly
breathed in their motion.
Later, the City was silence
threading through birdsongs.
I listened from the sun porch,
which seemed to hang
above the rotting picnic table.
The City was looped in the ring
I gave my lover to say: we would
live together inside the City.
Each July, the City hissed with light
at the sparklers’ blinding cores.
When the City spread its darkness
over me, I loved the warmth
of the susurrations, and when the City
lifted me above the City
I leaned my head
against the egg-shaped window.
O Auden—O City—
what abstractions I had:
the illusions I swung from
along your neoned, crisscrossing,
I once believed
formed a bower of iron.
Flooding the Valley
Then the City rose in the valley,
filling first the long furrows
in thin glassy lines, then
the roads, the pastures, rising
up through the porch boards,
the floorboards, lifting bales
of hay from the fields, climbing
the fence posts, the woodpile,
rising in the sooted chimney
stone by stone, up the staircase
to slide across the wood floor,
soaking the featherbed,
past the top of the banister,
the grayed vanity mirror,
climbing the trunks of trees
until the leaves were swallowed,
the City then scaling the long
sides of the valley, dilating
as it rose toward the sky,
up its own great wall, where
cars lined the roadway,
where hands lined the railing—
then down the long chutes
in white braids of froth,
the City spilled out.
The table at which we sat had been destroyed in the war, then rebuilt
from its pieces recovered behind the glassworks.
The food was sumptuous. Beyond the leaded windows there were
hedgerows budding in lilac and white. When a streetcar passed clang-
ing, I suppressed a sudden urge to ting my glass with my spoon.
Being strangers, we had little to talk about. So when at last Adam
stood, we tipped forward into the words of his toast with the zeal that
only strong liquor imparts.
From then on, things were better. We began to laugh. By eleven, I
thought the night was a real success.
I was lying just then—in truth we were terrified. We watched our-
selves twist in the bells of our water glasses. How could we know who
might stand to speak next, or what things he might say?
None of the servers could talk in our language. When an airplane
buzzed the street, we all flinched in unison.
In the hills, there were distant bursts of artillery—then vast swatches
-from The City, Our City
BIO: Wayne Miller is the author of The City, Our City, The Book of Props, which was named the “Best New Book of Poetry of 2009” by Coldfront Magazine, and Only the Senses Sleep, which received the William Rockhill Nelson Award in 2007. He is also the translator of I Don’t Believe in Ghosts, a collection by Albanian poet Moikom Zeqo, and the editor, with Kevin Prufer, of New European Poets. The recipient of the Lucille Medwick Memorial Award, the George Bogin Memorial Award, a Ruth Lilly Fellowship, and the Bess Hokin Prize, Miller currently lives in Kansas City, Missouri, and teaches at the University of Central Missouri, where he co-edits Pleiades: A Journal of New Writing.