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From the VQR Vault: Street Life

ISSUE:  Fall 2016

Street after street, I kept trailing
the old dog’s meanders, for no better reason
than to know where dogs go
in their tour of the night.

A thousand times, by my count, he stopped
to pee in odd places,
then went on with the air of 
someone expecting a telegram.

He passed houses, crossed corners, 
parks, villages, countries, 
while I followed behind him to know 
where dogs needed to go.

He endlessly pottered along,
putting barrios of garbage behind him,
empty bridges, of no use
while the carriages slept.

Whole regiments, schools, 
the statues’ dead bronzes,
a pathos of brothels,
and tired cabarets: we crossed
them all off, the dog leading the way,
and I at his heels, dog-tired.

Pablo Neruda, translated by Ben Belitt,
“V: Manual Metaphysics,” Spring 1972


It had been just past six o’clock when I left St. Pancras Station, and because of my ignorance and the name-concealing fog it was more than an hour and a half before I came to that district characterized by the smell of decaying fruit and vegetables—Covent Garden. I sniffed the malodorous bouquet gratefully, for now I knew my whereabouts. Tavistock Street was near and I had come to the end of my fearsome walk. In the daytime, Tavistock Street is a tangle of barrows, carts, and bricks piled high with fruit and vegetables, while through this maze of traffic step nimbly and deftly those agile cockney porters with eight or ten half-bushel baskets, balanced one on top of the other on their heads. At night the noise and bustle is gone, but the smell remains.

Robin Douglas,
Ah! There You Are!” Autumn 1940

Only when Washington returns and Norcross hears from Brennan and Entwhistle that the bridge is clear of all traffic, vehicular and pedestrian, does she release the drawbridge’s brakes and turn the two brass handles that start the leaves up. From the tower, it appears at first as if Godzilla or King Kong is pushing the roadway up from below. Then the two leaves break apart and the Pennsylvania leaf seems to slide under the adjacent arch span, but the illusion is only momentary, quickly displaced by a feeling of vertigo as the roadway, sidewalk, handrails and streetlights travel inexorably from the horizontal to the nearly vertical.

W. D. Ehrhart, from “Drawbridges on
the Delaware,” Autumn 2002


The belly of the city swells with trains.
Stitched in her side the stockyards’ heartburn
carbonates the river’s throat.

She lifts her foxy dunes,
parades lakeside and stateside,
whores a little in the board of trade.

Her iron fingers pierce the yellow smog:
naked crosses, steel cigars
belching manna wholesale,
each finger warming its nail
in blackmarket sunshine.

Asphyxiated fish silver her breast.
Freeways spill a septic discharge.
Yet she dines with the wind, oblivious,
tossing a brassy laugh
over a welded shoulder.

The gulls pick and choose.
She blows a kiss of soot,
Chicago wheeling and swinging
her plundered hips,
tarnished but radiant,
whistling her own hosannas.

Elizabeth Murawski,
After Sandburg,” Spring 1976


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