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The City

The City

Praise for The City by Bob Herz


It’s remarkable how cohesive these poems remain throughout, or what a truly remarkable intro poem the first one is, as the first line serves as the powerful and knowing key to unlocking the entire theme. “I came back to my city to feast with death.” And so it had me from that moment on!  There is a steady, almost haunting undertone of drollness incorporated into the many deceptively awful things that recur in everyday life; how they flower and go to seed in the course of this thin but rich volume.  And by the time I reached and entered the final poem, “For the Day After Election,” I was struck with the almost gleeful despair of the narrator. As one of the “poor wandering bastards” of the remaining world, I looked into my mirror and I read the seismic future aloud.—Sam Pereira, author of True North and Untrue You  


He doesn't flinch. I see so much flimsy work. His ain't that!

— Bill Schulz, editor of Hole in the Head Review 


The poems here are unflinching, shrewd, by turns achingly beautiful and wise. They don’t falsify experience with a promise of insistent order… Herz has the clarity to say perhaps there’s really no such thing but like Breton he can say “beauty will be convulsive or will not be at all.” —Stephen Kuusisto, from the Introduction


From The City:


My City 


I came back to my city to feast with death. 

City Hall ignored me—it had seen so much! 

The streets were unhappy shadows of themselves. 

I walked them alone, alone, waiting for night. 


At Cathedral Square the poor stole the altar gold—

Claiming salvation, but on their own terms. 

In the shank, three cops huddled over warm beer for lunch, 

Collars open, holsters unlatched, what did they care? 


Even the newest buildings carried teardrop tattoos, 

Glowering violence beneath half-closed windows. 

And everywhere, guns, knives, blood on the curbs, 

Rain washing the sewerage into family living rooms. 


Do you want to see it too? Watch then as neighbors 

And weeping relatives gather on front porches 

To tell reporters that these new dead 

Were just on the verge of turning their lives around. 


This Kind of Night 


I want to tell you about this—rain, tires, street sweepers, endless anticipation 

Of gunshot wounds by oncoming ambulances tracking crowded avenues. 

The scaffolding collapses against my building, I watch the old woman 

Lean out a 4th floor window, she seems unsurprised, about to say, I told them… 

Children are everywhere, crying, peeing in the street, chasing the squeegee men. 

A woman watches for a moment, then walks quickly away. I can’t see her face, 

But I imagine that she is beautiful, and that she has an apartment far from here, 

With a cat, a large flowering plant, the History of Modern Art on a bookshelf. 

I count my money. I put my hands in my pockets. I think of fields with rows 

Of corn, and wheat. I dream of buffalo. I wish I had a really big car 

With leather seats and a good radio that played music that people like us 

Could dance to all through these nights of losses, shouts, and stabbings.

I would sing to you. I would show you my true self, and you would love me. 


At Midnight 


Midnight in my city. The moon 

Discovers shards of itself, wafting 

Through July as it slips a hand 

Under the shirts of the young lovers. 


On side streets, when the traffic is gone, 

You can hear the songs of the long dead, 

And see buildings slip toward each other 

With a rattle of pipes and old bricks. 


The swamp on which this town was built 

Sometimes rises up and says its true name, 

Which is not the name you see on maps. 


There are murders on every street after 2 am. 

The cops try, but they are helpless. All stars

Shine more brightly when the fire goes out. 


Change in the Neighborhood 


The ice is breaking on the pond; it looks less weary now. 

Early evening, light fading, birds beginning last songs. 

It is the hour of quiet movements and rushed notes, 

Of preparations for dinner, the bottle hidden in the cupboard, 

The last look out the front picture window to the street. 

The lawn tools are gathered near the garden shack,

Shovels and rakes arranged indiscriminately against a season’s change. 

The streetlights and porch lights come on now, hesitantly, 

Like nurses entering the room of a child too old for such care. 

It is nearly the blank hour, the hour of neither the one right thing 

Nor the other, of choices made and then quickly abandoned, 

Half-remembered dreams and angry words in the diary’s secret pages. 

Now the neighborhood’s night-brides begin their circular walk, 

Selfless, heartless, with faces blank and blameless as the sky; 

It is not love they want, not tonight, and the rapt sons of tall houses 

Know this, and wait for them under the streetlights, 

Talking softly to each other, unwanted here, or anywhere. 

They study one other, as men do, carefully, without seeming to, 

Knowing that a word will start a fight that only blood can satisfy. 

Childhood is ending for them tonight, and for everyone, for no reason. 

There is no warning, only this slight change in air and light 

Signaling night’s encroachment, only the moon 

That turns its face away as that hard other life begins. 


Winter Plainness


Now the houses cast the lightest shade, gray on gray, 

Themselves a bare addition to the night;  


The last leaves cling in winter plainness; 

One senses Life like that, like the disappearance into air 


Of the least breath, so that the seen world becomes 

Part of the larger fantasia of lost wishes and things, 


No one wanting or asking for more than that. 

In the houses, tables set for two or three, too small 


For comfort against the December wind’s harsh cry 

That touches everything, that worries everything. 


Outside, a clapboard bangs repeatedly against an old shed. 

Who are we now, who were so brilliant last September? 


The fields grow smaller. The birds find other homes. 



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