Making Shelves

- 1949-
In that lit window in Bushwick
halfway through the hardest winter
I cut plexiglass on a table saw,
coaxing the chalked taped pane
into the absence of the blade,
working to such fine tolerance
the kerf abolished the soft-lead line.
I felt your eyes play over me
but did not turn—dead people
were not allowed in those huge factories.
I bargained: when the bell rang
I would drink with you on Throop
under the El, quick pint of Night Train
but you said no. Blood jumped

from my little finger, power
snapped off, voices summoned me
by name, but I waved them back
and knelt to rule the next line.

More by D. Nurkse

Searchers

We gave our dogs a button to sniff,
or a tissue, and they bounded off
confident in their training,
in the power of their senses
to re-create the body,

but after eighteen hours in rubble
where even steel was pulverized
they curled on themselves
and stared up at us
and in their soft huge eyes
we saw mirrored the longing for death:

then we had to beg a stranger
to be a victim and crouch
behind a girder, and let the dogs
discover him and tug him
proudly, with suppressed yaps,
back to Command and the rows
of empty triage tables.

But who will hide from us?
Who will keep digging for us
here in the cloud of ashes?

Nights On The Peninsula

We could not separate ourselves from our endless making.
We were always fabricating time, God, paradise, 
the bell-shaped lupines, the rough-grained elm
and smooth beech. We made the night sky from a rusty hinge,
the sea from a sigh and a bead of sweat. We made love
long before dawn. We constantly modified each other,
adding a leer to the other's face, or a smirk, even in sleep.
What kind of a tool-maker invents eternity and exile
and makes them race, like a child with the index and middle finger?
Even in dreams we bore the burden of waking, we called it suffering.
Even in a trance we had maps and blueprints. In the deepest dream
we received the gift of death—it rained on that peninsula.
The wind passed like a sponge over the gambrel roofs.
The leaves showed a blank side, veined like a cresting wave.
We were almost home, we thought. We had never seen this world
but we sensed it, like a cat's breath against our wrists:
we were married, the bees loved us, the ocean might relent,
the child muttered over a handful of dust and spit.

The Summer of Reconciliation

1
They’re happy but don’t know it.
They think they’re bored and hate each other.

The other has forgotten the hammer and must pound
each triangular tent peg with a damp stone
that has a smooth underside but no flat plane,
and here the earth is granite or friable lichen.

The whoosh could be a horsefly, rain, or a powerboat.

They make love, and each gasps politely, each feels
that fat cloud is me, that drilled acorn was me,
but this person holding me is strange,
withholding as time itself.

2
At sunset the island lights up:					
a firefly, a Coleman lamp, a bed of coals.
                                        It’s there they will learn to be travelers,     
there where the flies know they are loud,
the hidden spring is aware of being cold.

They will get there by the teak rowboat,
worn almost to a thought, the gunwale splaying,
the strake shipping bilge and drowned lunar moths,
the old dog in the prow, watching through cataracts.
       
Beach with me on mica, in the tannin-dark inlet.

3
No, there is nothing here, a wisp of tarred rope,
a smashed teal egg, paths that lead to each other,
so you might walk to Quarry Cove and find only quartz.

But here the night makes its own darkness.

Like lake water, or the spine of a moss-green book,
our marriage closes over us.

Related Poems

The Lower East Side of Manhattan

By the East River
of Manhattan Island
Where once the Iroquois
canoed in style—
A clear liquid
caressing another name
for rock,
Now the jumping
Stretch of Avenue D
housing projects
Where Ricans and Afros
Johnny Pacheco / Wilson Pickett
The portable radio night—
Across the Domino sugar
Neon lights of the Brooklyn shore

Window carnival of
megalopolis lights
From Houston Street
Twenty kids take off
On summer bikes
Across the Williamsburg
Bridge
Their hair flying
With bodega bean protein
Below the working class
jumping like frogs—
Parrots with new raincoats
swinging canes of bamboo
Like third legs
Down diddy-bop 6th Street
of the roaring Dragons
Strollers of cool flow

When winter comes they fly
In capes down Delancey
Past the bites of pastrami
Sandwiches in Katz's
Marching through red bricks
aglow dragging hind leg
Swinging arms
Defying in simalcas

Hebrew prayers inside
metallic containers
Rolled into walls
Tenement relic
Roofs of pigeon airports

Horse-driven carts
arrive with the morning
Slicing through the venetian
blinds
Along with a Polish English
Barking peaches and melons
Later the ice man a-cometh
Selling his hard water
cut into blocks
The afternoon a metallic
slide intercourses buildings
which start to swallow
coals down their basement
Mouths.

Where did the mountains go
The immigrants ask
The place where houses
and objects went back
Into history which guided
Them into nature

Entering the roots of plants
The molasses of fruit
To become eternal again,
Now the plaster of Paris
Are the ears of the walls
The first utterances in Spanish
Recall what was left behind.

People kept arriving
as the cane fields dried
Flying bushes from another
planet
Which had a pineapple for
a moon
Vegetables and tree bark
popping out of luggage
The singers of lament
into the soul of Jacob Riis
Where the prayers Santa Maria
Through remaining fibers
of the Torah
Eldridge Street lelolai
A Spanish never before seen
Inside gypsies.
Once Cordova the cabala
Haberdasheries of Orchard Street
Hecklers riddling bargains
Like in gone bazaars of
Some Warsaw ghetto.

Upward into the economy
Migration continues—
Out of the workers' quarters
Pieces of accents
On the ascending escalator.

The red Avenue B bus
disappearing down the
Needle holes of the garment
factories—
The drain of a city
The final sewers
Where the waste became antique
The icy winds
Of the river's edge
Stinging lower Broadway
As hot dogs
Sauerkraut and all
Gush down the pipes
of Canal

After Forsyth Park
is the beginning of Italy
Florence inside Mott
Street windows—
Palermo eyes of Angie
Flipping the big
hole of a 45 record
The Duprees dusting
Like white sugar onto
Fluffed dough—
Crisscrossing
The fire escapes
To arrive at Lourdes'
railroad flat
With knishes
she threw next to
Red beans.

Broome Street Hasidics
with Martian fur hats
With those ultimatum brims
Puerto Ricans supporting
pra-pras
Atop faces with features
Thrown out of some bag
Of universal race stew—
Mississippi rural slang
With Avenue D park view
All in exile from broken
Souths
The horses the cows the
chickens
The daisies of the rural
road
All past tense in the urbanity
that remembers
The pace of mountains
The moods of the fields.

From the guayaba bushels
outside of a town
With an Arowak name
I hear the flute shells
With the I that saw
Andalusian boats
Wash up on the beach
To distribute Moorish
eyes.

The Lower East Side
was faster than the speed
Of light
A tornado of bricks
and fire escapes
In which you had to grab
on to something or take
Off with the wayward winds—

The proletariat stoop voices
Took off like Spauldine
rubber balls
Hit by blue broomsticks
on 12th Street—
Wintertime summertime
Seasons of hallways and roofs
Between pachanga and doo-wop
A generation left
The screaming streets of
passage
Gone from the temporary
station of desire and disaster

I knew Anthony's
and Carmen
Butchy
Little Man
Eddie
Andrew
Tiny
Pichon
Vigo
Wandy
Juanito
Where are they?
The windows sucked them up
The pavement had mouths that
ate them
Urban vanishment
Illusion
I too
Henry Roth
"Call It Sleep."