How to Enter a Big City
Thomas James Merton
Swing by starwhite bones and
Lights tick in the middle.
Blue and white steel
Black and white
People hurrying along the wall.
”Here you are, bury my dead bones.“
Curve behind the sun again
Towers full of ice. Rich
Glass houses, “Here,
Have a little of my blood,”
Wheat in towers. Meat on ice.
Cattlecars. Miles of wide-open walls.
Baseball between these sudden tracks.
Yell past the red street—
Have you any water to drink, City?
Rich glass buildings, give us milk!
Give us coffee! Give us rum!
There are huge clouds all over the sky.
River smells of gasoline.
Cars after cars after cars, and then
A little yellow street goes by without a murmur.
There came a man
(”Those are radios, that were his eyes“)
Who offered to sell us his bones.
Swing by starwhite buildings and
Lights come to life with a sound
Of bugs under the dead rib.
Miles of it. Still the same city.
Do you know where you are going?
Do you know whom you must meet?
Fortune, perhaps, or good news
Or the doctor, or the ladies
In the long bookstore,
The angry man in the milkbar
The drunkard under the clock.
Fortune, perhaps, or wonder
Or, perhaps, death.
In any case, our tracks
Are aimed at a working horizon.
The buildings, turning twice about the sun,
Settle in their respective positions.
Centered in its own incurable discontent, the City
Consents to be recognized.
Then people come out into the light of afternoon,
Covered all over with black powder,
And begin to attack one another with statements
Or to ignore one another with horror.
Customs have not changed.
Young men full of coffee and
Old women with medicine under their skin
Are all approaching death at twenty miles an hour.
Everywhere there is optimism without love
And pessimism without understanding,
They who have new clothes, and smell of haircuts
Cannot agree to be at peace
With their own images, shadowing them in windows
From store to store.
Until the lights come on with a swagger of frauds
And savage ferns,
The brown-eyed daughters of ravens,
Sing in the lucky doors
While night comes down the street like the millennium
Wrapping the houses in dark feathers
Soothing the town with a sign
Healing the strong wings of sunstroke.
Then the wind of an easy river wipes the flies
Off my Kentucky collarbone.
The claws of the treacherous stars
Renegade drums of wood
Endure the heavenward protest.
Their music heaves and hides.
Rain and foam and oil
Make sabbaths for our wounds.
(Come, come, let all come home!)
The summer sighs, and runs.
My broken bird is under the whole town,
My cross is for the gypsies I am leaving
And there are real fountains under the floor.
Branches baptize our faces with silver
Where the sweet silent avenue escapes into the hills.
Winds at last possess our empty country
There, there under the moon
In parabolas of milk and iron
The ghosts of historical men
(Figures of sorrow and dust)
Weep along the hills like turpentine.
And seas of flowering tobacco
Surround the drowning sons of Daniel Boone.
The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton