Excerpt from “From the Elevated Platform” by Matthew Zingg
The city has a pattern I can run my fingers over, a texture that has,
at its best moments, the multiple shades of empty. A box beside a box
inside a box beside a box. Up here there is east & west, two choices
that brush together, the similar ends of magnets. Consider the room
before you enter & I’ll do the same. Consider the word for choice
as a wooden doll resting in the belly of larger wooden doll.
That I need my morning coffee before I can write to you is further proof.
That my last twenty-dollar bill is folded inside my fist tucked
into my back pocket is an extended metaphor for this poem,
how reluctant I am to let go even in fits of starvation. Soon enough
I’ll bend to some thirst, the train cars rattling through the scaffold bones
to the reddening joints of my hand, & the sky will shatter.
A flock of pigeons calls off the satellite dishes & AC units: This is how
I think, in handfuls of birdseed, in pint glasses, in do’s & don’ts.
Every gesture playing into your hand plays into mine. Where will you tell me
to sleep when you find me on the couch, down to the very last?
How many ultimatums could you possibly have left? Choices again.
One train goes to Manhattan, the other so far into Brooklyn
I have trouble imagining the people who ride in from that distance,
their bodies more like open jars. My own, rain at the bottom
of an empty bottle. The tracks glitter with broken glass. Four hours
from now the neon will flash on & the streets below me will look
more like that piece of glowing coal, that street map of fire I find
graying in every morning’s ashes. These shaky hands.
Let me find an equal, opportune angle: On a rooftop, a pigeon
is pecking at a toy elephant, plastic flake by flake. Soon a tumor
will grow from poisoning in the bird’s gullet, but for now
the taste is decent. There are clues in all the rooms: wooden dolls
on bookshelves or stored in the closet, or spice jars—a couple
teaspoons left—crowded on the rack as if witness to some life,
testimony that we pass through & use the space between us.
If what I say is a barroom matchbook, if every light amounts
to a ghost print in the dark, the quick fragrance of sulfur and waste,
then I know it is wrong. But allow me the frivolity, allow me the poison.
I’ll take out the dolls as a matter of theory. I’ll cook for guests
to prove how well I keep house. Do you remember waking up
to the wounded brindle in the alley, how she flushed the sleep
from the windows, & the entire building hit the snooze button.
What use this offers. The gift & the refusal, the game, the catch,
the cold stars. I exhale air & it becomes air. An apartment light
switches off & the night fills out a little more along the track.
The train is a few stops back. No time to remember. No one to predict
this poem has yet to happen, this poem stuck between one direction
& being somewhere else. There’s nothing to hide up these sleeves.
Who can tell me the sun sets in a handful of hours? No one can point
to a building & say who sleeps there, who loves there, not even me.
I think I might wait here all day for that even motherly voice, a place
of termination, a small ripple in the clouds, a pause to comment on
how far we’ve come, more the distance we’ll never come to, or overcome.
Look: we starve ourselves defiantly & throw our bodies in bed
the way one tosses a jacket in the corner at the end of winter. We say,
the choice is up to you, & roll over to sleep. We say, I’ll see you
in the morning, & cross our fingers the sun forgets.
You can read the rest of “From the Elevated Platform” in our Long Poetry Issue.
Matthew Zingg’s work has appeared in Sink Review, The Paris-American, The Awl, The Rumpus, The Atlas Review, Blackbird, Muzzle, Big Lucks, and Everyday Genius, among others. Zingg lives in Baltimore where he curates the Federal Dust Reading Series.