“You were supposed to find God here / the signs said.” In these poems, hinterlands demand our close attention; overlooked places of industry become sites for pilgrimage; and history large and small—of a city, of a family, of a shirt—is unearthed. Here is a factory emptying for the day, a snowy road just past border patrol, a baseball game at dusk. Mile signs point us toward Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Salt Lake City, Chicago. And god is not the God expected, but the still moment amid movement: a field “lit like the heart / of the night,” black stars stitched to the yellow sweatshirts of men in a crowd.
A map “bleached / pale by time and weather,” North American Stadiums is a collection at once resolutely unsentimental yet deeply tender, illuminating the historical forces that shape the places we inhabit and how those places, in turn, shape us.
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Explaining the Resurrection in Simple Words
A blessing can be the act of invoking divine protection,
or a favor or gift bestowed by god,
and I don't know how to define mercy,
but the field is lit like the heart of the night, gnats flitting above the crosshatched grass,
huge shadows of the ballplayers in stadium light whistling in signals from the outfield.
The wind lifts and settles our shirts against our skin,
and you ask after my day:
there'd been pinwheels spinning on a rain-soaked lawn, pigeons cooing and nesting in the gutters.
I'd pressed my back to the dark damp wood of the trunk.
Yellow flowers fell on me.
Another Beauty I Remember
Somewhere in South Chicago the millwrights and welders of US Steel are leaving their masks to hooks and lockers and shining out into evening still covered in dust.
Those men do not belong to me, their world of arc and fire, but many nights I have loved them.
When I was seventeen my friends and I rode each weekend toward the Indiana border. One drove, another worked the dials on the radio, and I drank gin in the back and ordered us to slow over the toll bridge to peer down at the barge lights roaming the Calumet River,
then up to where the smokestacks of US Steel rose like an organ in a church. Gin, fire, the workers coming off their shifts, light lighting up the metal-dust spread along their shoulders like the men had all walked through plate glass windows.
Their dust does not belong to me, but many nights I have loved them.
They do not live where I was born, north of the mammoth glass residences of the Gold Coast where the worst news was soon mended: a neighbor girl's bone broken in a fall. A garage fire sullying the air over Broadway and Balmoral. I did not know their sons: the Byrnes, the Walshes, the Mansekies of Bridgeport and Fuller Park. The green parade and the green river and the pride of the Irish. Laughter, bright balloons over cracked asphalt, yellow hair and sunlight, all the families singing songs of another country.
I keep taking the long road back to that summer because the image won't leave me:
weekend evenings, gin and driving south, smoke blasting from the factory stacks,
the men glancing up at the flash of our passing.
We were going to spend all night drinking gin on an Indiana beach. Dust had settled like fragments of a hand grenade, like silver wings across the backs of the men. We were going to tell each other what was beautiful.
The dark water was beautiful. The fire drowning the air with smoke, our voices drowned by the sound.
I stood at the edge of the water where the coastline stretched from my left and curved enough north that the stitch of factory lights looked like they were shining from the far side of the lake.
We burned traces into the air with the burning tips of sticks poked into the heart of fire.
We all said the sky was beautiful. Our bodies light against the water.
Somewhere in South Chicago the millwrights and welders of US Steel are leaving their masks to hooks and they are going home. What did I know then? What did I know of the beauty of the men? Driving past, I watched just long enough to see them stepping out of their shifts,
believing them angelic, knowing not a thing about their lives, each of them, perhaps, seeing what I saw: light coming off the backs of the others as they drifted into the lot, but knowing the light I saw was dust,
not wings, and, knowing to call it dust,
calling it dust.
This was my routine: I woke, and in the morning carried my houseplants to the courtyard,
three small succulents potted in a wooden box.
Each evening I returned to retrieve them.
When a neighbor inquired
I explained that I did this to give the plants sun and air.
Her manner suggested she perceived my action to be unusual-I suspected she'd been watching for some time.
Soon after, the rains came.
What little light there was only made visible the water that had been falling invisibly all night.
The daily journey from the kitchen to the courtyard became unnecessary.
Here I should explain something about the room in which I lived.
It was small, three walls and a door,
but one whole wall was a window.
The view was of the courtyard and across it, windows into the rooms on the yard's far side: blinds, reflections,
individual panes the width and length of coffins.
In time I became interested in a window opposite my own.
It was like the others in most respects, except all day a curtain was drawn across it. Light burned from behind it all hours of the night.
Evenings I positioned my chair behind the blinds-
night came. One by one the windows glowed on the building opposite.
One by one they were extinguished except the one I watched.
I recall a night-light I was given as a boy,
a moon the size of my hand illuminated by a slim bulb.
The light shined through the moon; the moon's plastic softened the light.
In the sky, the white moon.
In the corner of my room, the small moon appeared yellow. The window
came to seem connected: the way the curtain held and thickened the light,
how the light made the weight of the curtain apparent.
Reading back, I see that I have omitted certain important details-
many nights had passed; the curtain remained closed.
What I knew of the room I knew only from the shadows cast by the objects inside-
a spray of stems.
I never saw anyone.
I never saw anyone,
but I knew the room was occupied: the shade of the light sometimes altered, bright or dim depending on the night,
like a pulse.
I lay in bed. The rain erased the world,
and the world's noise returned-
trickling water; the hum coming from the walls.
Days passed. A stain formed on the sill's tile around the outline of the box of plants.
The window, as I have said, often remained lit late into the night. When I saw it, I would rise and turn on my own. If the window darkened,
mine did too. In this way, I felt, we came to form a kind of correspondence.
At the courtyard's center sat a round glass table, four chairs tilted toward it, like people conspiring.
A pool of water formed across its surface,
blue in the evening, pale in the day, the sky moving inside it. Each night before sleep,
my eyes traveled from the window to the table, from the table to the shape of each vacant chair, the darkness filling the absent forms.
Noon turned everything white-
shadows walked back inside their trees.
You were supposed to find God here,
the signs said-
West Jordan, Zion, there
where the first Saints were fed into the Valley by the Range.
Dusk drowned the canyon's gashes-
dawn brought them back-
then all that sunlight. All that
brown burnt trackside brush.
Kids by the roadside,
I remember-blue snow cones in white paper cups.
Table of Contents
Explaining the Resurrection in Simple Words 1
Syracuse, October 5
The Life 6
Another Beauty I Remember 8
Thousand Islands 11
Sunday Morning 14
Far Rockaway 15
A Summer 26
View from Brooklyn 29
The Window 30
The Syracuse Poem 44
Blue Handgun 49
After Psalm 17 57
A Story about the Moon 59
Dispatch: Pittsburgh 60
Picasso in Milwaukee 63
Dispatch: Canal Zone 64
Salt Lake 67
Forbes Field, Pittsburgh, 1966 68
The Leavings 73
Bands You Might Have Liked If You Were Still Alive 80
Stopping the War 82
Rainout in the Twin Cities 91
Memorial Day 92