"Goodbye Billyburg"

A weekly poem, read by the author.
Sept. 20 2011 6:50 AM

"Goodbye Billyburg"

Click the arrow on the audio player to hear Spencer Short read this poem. You can also download the recording or subscribe to Slate's Poetry Podcast on iTunes.

8am. The dark descent. Gilt pre-war  
tile-work now sub-seagreen grime, the biotic  
discharge (kudzic? cosmic?) of a "tragic" lack  
of change; no glib rehab, no stolid renova-  
tion; the low steam wheedle of a played-out   

radiator; the faint first hypodermic  
rustle from Our Junky Squatter in the kohl-black  
aether of the stair above. Blah vita nuova
Monday, March, arctic air etching a braided route 
up while I—small wave of warmth down its bruise-   

blue arm—ease past canker, past cataract, 
past the felt-sewn & three-legged husk of a 
deep-6'd card table: little lean-to, riddled redoubt. 
What now? Well, work. Though one threadless screw
                                                            shakes loose  
to ping last night's post-Freudian rehash—er,   

earthquake? Ur-crisis. Ur-neurosis. One helluva  
(& less than objective) correlative. What now,  
dreamer? The warm stalk-sweet smell from the hooded crews  
who keep us failsafe for commerce; men of stature,  
or near enough, their gauzy, smoke-strung copse  

dissolves, lets me pass, nods assent. I mouth  
"morning," eye the candied, cardamom gloss of my shoes, 
shrug against the cold. Everything, as the nomenclature 
goes, 4 Sale: this Smithean forge this Stereoscope
by which I mean, of course, the wan illusion of depth   

we milk from nil; the pinch-penny nickel They lose 
for Us to find. As if—as if red-toothed nature 
begot benevolence begot itself this hands-free trope 
of clasp & claw, of gross & price, of precipice. 
8am. The day spreads before me like, what?   

A map? A grid? A grammar? An ethic of erasure. 
A math outside I can only touch, sad asymptote
or too-thin reed acrux the gleaming stream. Darkness 
gone at last to the dogs.  The smell of bread & bacon fat 
warms the hall. I fix my tie. Step from the stair.   

How our necks burn (fiercely) by rope or rote. 
No? Yellow plastic from here to there to mark this 
scene of some "disturbance." Is this the means of making art? 
Good-bye Bill-y-burg. And so descend. As heir. To err. Into air.

Spencer Short is the author of Tremolo. He is an attorney in NYC.