- Ilium fuit, Troja est.
- —Troy, NY city motto
You are the country at war and the city ablaze.
You are the flags lining Fourth Street and the singer
crooning Proud to be an American in his perfect
toupée. You are concrete and brownstone and groaning
row houses. You are burning in the sun
with your children to watch the Army parade.
You are the dime of piff rolled and lit to glow
its purple haze. You are cigarettes burning into
red ends on the stoop. You are the blunt
and the thong, the stem and the seed.
You are the rum mother’s liquor
and the rum mother’s need.
You are the Green Island Bridge and its glittering curves.
You are the Hess gas station fluorescing all through the night.
You are the Burden and its turning wheel.
You are the white dog cocking his ear over the city
and hearing no call. You are the mean-eyed
bitch staring into the street resting her shitty white
chin on the sill. You are the pit bull dreaming
at the end of her chain. You are the flex of her
brindle at the sound of her name.
You are the neon of the Nite Owl News.
You are the shop and its gold bamboo earrings,
the polished hoops and their weight in each lobe.
You are the rhinestone barrettes displayed in a case,
the homegirl wigs bobbing on their mannequin heads.
You are the homegirl’s nails tipped in China Glaze red.
You are Sixth Avenue, its drivers cursing at the drivers ahead.
You are Sixth Avenue, its drivers passing: Fuck you bitch!
You are Sixth Avenue: white petals dizzying in the wind of cop cars.
You are the white minivan which starts or doesn’t
with a screwdriver’s turn. You are the empty box of
Newports crushed on the dash. You are the bass
that jumps in the speaker and the speaker’s
shudder. You are the late-night
run to the club and the back-door lover.
You are the baby mother and the baby
father. You are the girls who unzip their jeans
to let out their bellies. You are the worry over
the child support you didn’t get, the child support
you didn’t pay. You are the unborn baby’s
welfare card awaiting its first birthday.
You are the number taken to wait at the Office of Temporary Assistance.
You are the number taken to wait in the room of metal chairs and detectors.
You are the number taken to wait, its Xeroxed face repeating.
You are the unfinished basement, the brown mattress
curling in the curling brown house. You are the unfinished
basement, the dryer churning its hot word goodnight.
You are piss in the boy’s bedclothes and the scent
of piss in the sink. You are your grandchildren’s names
pressed into your skin with Indian ink.
You were the green pastures of Ilium.
You are the crumbling theaters of Troy.
You are the city and its women
wailing darkly and bright to bless
your city as it burns, this city
made of your light.
In Verse is supported by Public Radio Makers Quest 2.0, an initiative of AIR, the Association of Independents in Radio. This project is made possible with funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and by a broadcast partnership with Studio 360 with Kurt Andersen.