St. Nicholas Park in Harlem is one of few spots
on the island of Manhattan where you can stand
on terraces of rock untouched since men
with surveyor's tools stood on them
to deliver the bad news, back in the last 
century but one: Gentlemen, here is a substance
we cannot move.  So they built around,
below and above, leaving this uneven
pleat of ground, rocks surfaced between the trees
like whales in strips of sun, stunned to find themselves
landlocked among buildings, illuminated
at night by lamp posts.   The old maples and oaks,
roots plumbing the hill as humans could not,
whisper of what's below: more rock—more rock—more rock.

More by Anne Pierson Wiese

In the Beginning

There was the famous photographer, Walker Evans,
who started by photographing old signs and ended
by filling his bathtub with them and washing
himself in the kitchen sink.  There was the Harlem
man whose pet tiger cub grew so big that first
his family and finally he himself fled
the 12th-floor, three-bedroom apartment in the housing
project, returning every day to fling raw chickens
through a crack in the front door.  Love displaces

everything.  All over the city the signs peer
from beneath modern facades, fade in the sun and rain
high up on sides of buildings: BEST QUALITY TWINE.  Ghosts
on brick, cockeyed atop demolition dumpsters, tin
worn delicate as paper, pale lettered—mint,
red, black: ELEVATOR APARTMENTS AVAILABLE:
INQUIRE ON PREMISES.  If you stare at them words
are faces; everyone who ever spelled them out,
ever debated whether to buy twine or rent
an apartment fades up into view wearing shadowy
Homburgs, black veils, parcels in their arms, the winter
air freshening for snow.  Or imagine the face
of a tiger waiting behind a thin metal door,
your furniture demolished, your family living
on friends' floors, your neighbors smelling urine and fur
and losing their tolerance, a policeman
rappelling outside your windows with a dart gun.

Imagine a hunger for the invisible world
so deep it must have existed before you were born.

Profile of the Night Heron

In the Brooklyn Botanic Garden the night
heron is on his branch of his tree, blue
moon curve of his body riding low
above the pond, leaves dipping into water
beneath him, green and loose as fingers.
On the far shore, the ibis is where
I left him last time, a black cypher
on his rock. These birds, they go to the right
place every day until they die.

There are people like that in the city,
with signature hats or empty attaché cases,
expressions of private absorption fending
off comment, who attach to physical
locations—a storefront, a stoop, a corner,
a bench—and appear there daily as if for a job.
They negotiate themselves into the pattern
of place, perhaps wiping windows, badly,
for a few bucks, clearing the stoop of take-out
menus every morning, collecting the trash
at the base of the walk/don’t walk sign
and depositing it in the garbage can.

Even when surfaces change, when the Mom & Pop
store becomes a coffee bar, when the park
benches are replaced with dainty chairs and a pebble
border, they stay, noticing what will never change:
the heartprick of longitude and latitude
to home in on, the conviction that life
depends, every day, on what outlasts you.