a poem is a city

to a beloved friend who is also a city…


a poem is a city filled with streets and sewers

filled with saints, heroes, beggars, madmen,

filled with banality and booze,

filled with rain and thunder and periods of

drought, a poem is a city at war,

a poem is a city asking a clock why,

a poem is a city burning,

a poem is a city under guns

its barbershops filled with cynical drunks,

a poem is a city where God rides naked

through the streets like Lady Godiva,

where dogs bark at night, and chase away

the flag; a poem is a city of poets,

most of them quite similar

and envious and bitter…

a poem is this city now,

50 miles from nowhere,

9:09 in the morning,

the taste of liquor and cigarettes,

no police, no lovers, walking the streets,

this poem, this city, closing its doors,

barricaded, almost empty,

mournful without tears, aging without pity,

the hardrock mountains,

the ocean like a lavender flame,

a moon destitute of greatness,

a small music from broken windows…


a poem is a city, a poem is a nation,

a poem is the world…


and now I stick this under glass

for the mad editor’s scrutiny,

the night is elsewhere

and faint gray ladies stand in line,

dog follows dog to estuary,

the trumpets bring on gallows

as small men rant at things

they cannot do.


Charles Bukowski