A Night in Brooklyn: Poems

A Night in Brooklyn: Poems

by D. Nurkse
     
 

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D. Nurkse’s deeply satisfying new collection is a haunted love letter to the far corners of his hometown, Brooklyn, New York, and a meditation on the selves that were left behind in those indelible places.

Here Nurkse brings alive the particular details that shape a life, in this case unique to the world of Brooklyn—a job at the Arnold Grill,

Overview

D. Nurkse’s deeply satisfying new collection is a haunted love letter to the far corners of his hometown, Brooklyn, New York, and a meditation on the selves that were left behind in those indelible places.

Here Nurkse brings alive the particular details that shape a life, in this case unique to the world of Brooklyn—a job at the Arnold Grill, “topping off drafts with a paddle” for the truckers who came in; the deaf white alley cat that mysteriously survived the winter on a stoop in Bensonhurst; the narrow bed where young love took place; the wild gardens behind the tenements. His exploration of this almost mythic city past is combined with a sense of the future speeding toward us—the ongoing riddle of time and being in a larger universe.
 
 . . . And she who was driving said,
We know the coming disaster intimately but the present is unknowable.
 
Which disaster, I wondered, sexual or geological? But I was shy:
her beauty was like a language she didn’t speak and had never heard.
 
From “The Present”

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Desire creates reality in the latest from Nurske: “We wanted so much that there be a world/ as we lay naked on our gray-striped mattress,” the book begins. Throughout its three sections “each act a past and a future/ an almost and absolute,” and those who act and desire are vulnerable, haunted by time’s forward motion. The Brooklyn of the opening title section is at once literal borough and a living context where, “Though we are fading/ all our actions last forever.” Here, even the dead can remember Brooklyn—a deceased father can still frequent the haunt where his son tends bar—while the living always return “to slip the key in the lock,/ and come back to the present,” where lovers fight next door. From far-reaching outskirts of this all-encompassing Brooklyn, new voices enter in the second section, “Elsewhere,” including Andalusian fragments and riddles from Spanish and French. Lastly, “No Time,” further records and questions what’s fleeting: “If this is happiness,/ how shall we leave it,/ if this is grief, how to enter it.” Nurske recalls: “How we loved to create a world,” and he renders our imperfect world perfectly in this stunning book. (July)
Library Journal
"Flatlands," "A Stoop in Bensonhurst," "Twilight in Canarsie": urban working-class neighborhoods set the scene for many of the poems in this collection by Brooklyn's former poet laureate and author of nine earlier books of poetry (The Border Kingdom). The voices here emerge from behind sooty walls and layers of paint, breathing hopeful despair into mirrored interiors: "I love my life, she says,/ but really I would like to be elsewhere." Like the arguing neighbors "on that linden-shaded industrial block/ between Linwood and Crescent," the speakers seek an elusive wormhole into another world, "the night sky hidden/ at the center of the last period." As time and space play their disorienting tricks, the present discloses a foreboding future: "Which of us was crying?/ Would we ever know?" When the dead enter (the speaker's ghost father comes into a bar for a glass of muscatel), it is like the old joke without a punch line: there may be humor here, but it is buried deep. VERDICT These stark, unhinged poems move from the non-chic neighborhoods of ethnic Brooklyn into other worlds, with unrelenting sadness and a startling eye. For sophisticated readers.—Ellen Kaufman, New York

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780307959324
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
07/10/2012
Pages:
96
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.60(d)

Read an Excerpt

Waking in Greenpoint in Late August

We wanted so much that there be a world as we lay naked on our gray-striped mattress,
staring up at a trowel mark on the eggshell-blue ceiling and waiting, waiting for twilight, darkness, dawn,
marriage, the child, the hoarse names of the city—
let there be a universe in which these lovers can wash at the pearling spigot, and lick each other dry.

A Night in Brooklyn

We undid a button,
turned out the light,
and in that narrow bed we built the great city—
water towers, cisterns,
hot asphalt roofs, parks,
septic tanks, arterial roads,
Canarsie, the intricate channels,
the seacoast, underwater mountains,
bluffs, islands, the next continent,
using only the palms of our hands and the tips of our tongues, next we made darkness itself, by then it was time for daybreak and we closed our eyes until the sun rose and we had to take it all to pieces for there could be only one Brooklyn.

The Bars

After work I’d go to the little bars along the bright green river, Chloe’s Lounge,
Cloverleaf, Barleycorn, it was like dying to sit at five p.m. with a Bud so cold it had no taste, it stung my hand,
when I returned home I missed my keys and rang until my wife’s delicate head emerged in her high window and retreated like a snail tucked in a luminous shell—
I couldn’t find my wallet, or my paycheck,
though I drank nothing, only a few sips that tasted like night air, a ginger ale,
nevertheless a dozen years passed, a century,
always I teetered on that high stool while the Schlitz globe revolved so slowly,
disclosing Africa, Asia, Antarctica,
unfathomable oceans, radiant poles,
until I was a child, they would not serve me,
they handed me a red hissing balloon but for spite I let it go, for the joy of watching it climb past Newton Tool & Die,
for fear of cherishing it, for the pang of watching it vanish and knowing myself both cause and consequence.

Meet the Author

D. NURKSE is the author of nine previous books of poetry. His recent prizes include a Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a Guggenheim Fellowship. A former poet laureate of Brooklyn, he has also written widely on human rights.

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