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The City That Swallowed the Sea

I want to forget the city that swallowed the sea,

    where the churches unbreak bread and send old men

onto their hymnaled knees, where the streets sing

    like handbells and the night cracks like a broken bottle

crushed under the heel of a priest taking confessions,

    where the newsmen huddle on a street corner

under evening editions while the rain skins

    their stubbled chins and the creeping asphalt

licks at the face of the shoreline still,

    sipping at the sea, sipping at the salt

that steams up from the waves each sweaty night

    and blankets the shoreline in a tight knit

of creamy silt, and I remember the prayers I said,

    with my knees cupped in sand,

how I prayed to the saints for an intercession,

    how it came like a punch to the blood,

wrapped its fingers around the throat of my blood,

    squeezed the ribs of my blood until I could feel

the nicked edges of broken-blood ribs tickling

    my blood’s tiny lungs, those neat, unfurled sails tacking up

and down my veins, and I remember the saint

    of the city, our patron and the patron of bookkeepers,

the patron against lead poisoning, the patron of shims

    and tambourines, the patron of hiccups and tin whistles,

patron of pandemics and against pandemics,

    of ironworkers and against ironworkers, and I want to forget

when I was five, and our teacher told us to draw

    a picture of ourselves, and I drew the skyline above the sea,

said I was changing my name to “The City,”

    and she leaned in close and said that I would never be

the city that swallowed the sea, and my face

    turned warm, and her breath was the dry hush

of the sea as it slides each day from the city,

    and we rope it and haul it back like a brindle calf

with three legs tied, and we drink it a little

    each day, and the censusman knocks every morning

to measure how much we drank,

    and I want to forget our duty to be the city

that swallowed the sea, to be the saints of the city

    that swallowed the sea, and I want to forget those streets

that ribboned and choked and split my bones,

    that sea that skipped down the avenues of my nerves

and planted a kiss on the tiny bronze bell

    that hangs—unpolished—from the stem of my brain.

from Litany for the CityFind it in the library

Copyright © BOA Editions, Ltd 2012
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of BOA Editions LTD.

Published in Poems Ryan Teitman

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