Chicago—and the days of the terrible job,
the terrible ride to work above neighborhood
and neighborhood, every window below
caught in the same torn curtain, or so it seemed
from the El, a thing dizzy with its own
volts and brakes. I pressed my cheek
against the glass and kept looking: even the flashing
backyards turned ancient, each
almost a square, pinned down with a chair
tilted backward or broken. How long is anyone
twenty-three or four—endless moment
dragged through its bored cousins. Years.

And my job: papers into files, files
into their buzzing slots, day after day
at the great university. Near Christmas, nothing
much to do, my office mate hummed
as she sewed and folded ornaments, her desk
an acre of sequins and ribbon. I typed
deep into the early twilight—poems—and stared
them through. Poor things. It was like walking
sideways into the massive heart—a heart
as big as a room—at the Museum of Science and Industry,
following the dim light
in the blue-pitched veins, that gun barrel
double rap in my head. Someone’s
real heart, the guide said, amplified one hundred times.

Coming home, I’d see the old man
severed at the waist, and walk by quickly.
Each day he’d set up at the El, his odd little chair,
his can of frosted ballpoint pens. I once
bought two. Pretty soon—I don’t know.
I quit before long. By then, it was summer.
The half-man in his tee shirt
began to balance bottle
onto bottle into a glittering, threatening lace.
Look out, he’d say, rolling
Back on his ball bearings the size of a fist,
Careful of us, loving our danger.

:: Marianne Boruch, Moss Burning (1993)

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