I walk west with a suitcase on 81st
Where among taxis the blacktop crests
At the broad opening of Park. In the unbuilt sky
Overhead, unfamiliar birdsong—seagulls
Blown inland off Atlantic squalls.
Underfoot, the controlled thunder of the IRT.

Wasn’t 81st a trail once, dusty from Easter
To autumn? Draught horses watered at troughs here
And dragged tons of fish and salt through mud uphill
Over decades of winters—before the oaks were cut
For lumber and firewood, the streams made straight
And channeled underground; before the topsoil

Had the breath bricked out of it, and purple loosestrife
Flaring in ditches was crushed under asphalt.
Hillsides upstate were alloyed into steel; cement
Hardened; storey above storey the city rose.
Uniformed like admirals, unfurling umbrellas,
Doormen appear now, eyeing the firmament.

That repercussion I hear as I step out
To claim a cab—that descending note
Across the black keys of the air—is that the approaching
Storm’s flourish, or something new being demolished
As the city grows? Or is it an oblivious
Left-handed bass-run played before some open

Window? As I look up to divine its source,
A raindrop strikes me square in the face.
My airport taxi accelerates me out of town,
Slipping through traffic’s congestive confluence,
Through the chord, the discordant concordance
Of Manhattan—built-up, weighed-down, put-upon.


Richard Tillinghast

This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 10 Number 9, on page 43
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