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RUKEYSER, Muriel


Seventh Avenue


This is the cripple’s hour on Seventh Avenue

when they emerge, the two o’clock night-walkers,

the cane, the crutch, and the black suit.

Oblique early mirages send the eyes:

night dramatized in puddles, the animal glare

that makes indignity, makes the brute.

Not enough effort in the sky for morning.

No color, pantomime of blackness, landscape

where the third layer black is always phantom


Here comes the fat man, the attractive dog-chested

legless—and the wounded infirm king

with nobody to use him as a saint.


Now they parade in the dark, the cripples’ hour

to the drugstore, the bar, the newspaper-stand,

past kissing shadows on a window-shade to

colors of alcohol, reflectors, light.

Wishing for trial to prove their innocence

with one straight simple look:


the look to set this avenue in its colors—

two o’clock on a black street instead of

wounds, mysteries, fables, kings

in a kingdom of cripples.


Gauley Bridge

Camera at the crossing sees the city

a street of wooden walls and empty windows,

the doors shut handless in the empty street,

and the deserted Negro standing on the corner.


The little boy runs with his dog

up the street to the bridge over the river where

nine men are mending road for the government.

He blurs the camera-glass fixed on the street.


Railway tracks here and many panes of glass

tin under light, the grey shine of towns and forests:

in the commercial hotel (Switzerland of America)

the owner is keeping his books behind the public glass.


Postoffice window, a hove of private boxes,

the hand of the man who withdraws,

the woman who reaches her hand

and the tall coughing man stamping an envelope.


The bus station and the great pale buses stopping for food;

April-glass-tinted, the yellow-aproned waitress;

coast-to-coast schedule on the plateglass window.


The man on the street and the camera eye:

he leaves the doctor’s office, slammed door, doom,

any town looks like this one-street town.


Glass, wood, and naked eye: the movie-house

closed for the afternoon frames posters streaked with rain,

advertise “Racing Luck” and “Hitch-Hike Lady”.


Whistling, the train comes from a long way away,

slow, and the Negro watches it grow in the gray air,

the hotel man makes a note behind his potted palm.


Eyes of the tourist house, red-and-white filing station,

the eyes of the Negro, looking down the track,

hotel-man and hotel, cafeteria, camera.


And in the beerplace on the other sidewalk

always one’s harsh night eyes over the beerglass

follow the waitress and the yellow apron.


The road flows over the bridge,

Gamoca pointer at the underpass,

opposite, Alloy, after a block of town.


What do you want – a cliff over a city?

A foreland, sloped to sea and overgrown with roses?

These people live here.


Waiting for Icarus

He said he would be back and we'd drink wine together

He said that everything would be better than before

He said we were on the edge of a new relation

He said he would never again cringe before his father

He said that he was going to invent full-time

He said he loved me that going into me

He said was going into the world and the sky

He said all the buckles were very firm

He said the wax was the best wax

He said Wait for me here on the beach

He said Just don't cry


I remember the gulls and the waves

I remember the islands going dark on the sea

I remember the girls laughing

I remember they said he only wanted to get away from me

I remember mother saying: Inventors are like poets, a trashy lot

I remember she told me those who try out inventions are worse

I remember she added: Women who love such are the worst of all

I have been waiting all day, or perhaps longer.

I would have liked to try those wings myself.

It would have been better than this.