Like escaping through a siege, growing older
      Hampers itself with hopes of return;
So if, over your bare shoulder,
Upwind palaces start to smolder,
      Let them burn.

Woken by ax-hack and sword-clang, at once you knew
      Better than to arm for the defense
Of gates your foes stream through.
You’re free to act as the conquered do
      When a war ends.

Whatever you cannot bear, you must jettison
      To gain the stealth of lacking a past.
You’re not safe till you outrun
Hearing the hoard of spoils you’ve won

Shrieks. Towers crash down. Yet back-alleying
      At a pace fit for fifty, not twenty,
You must curb the urge to cling
A moment to some random one or thing,
      From the passing plenty.

Beyond the walls, your descent shoreward lies
      Through olive groves long since laid waste.
Dawn miscolors smoke-splashed skies,
Leaving you no shield against hunting eyes
      But further haste.

What exiles converge on this fringe of wrack-strewn sand?
What refuge beckons       from this blank sea?
Comes there no one to command
Our foretold voyage, to a land
      Called Italy?


Urban Life

I’ve got all the nature I need, here in the city.
      Blocks of green speckle its grid where parks and zoos
Nestle like pets, cosseted and car-ad pretty,
While vermin and weeds, too close to us for pity,
      Adapt to every toxin we dare to use.

The one time I went, the Orchid Show was as hot
      And human-humid as the subway.  I had to leave.
In its crowd, each splayed plant dangled from a pot
As if petaling just to please us, which it was not.
      Out where the traffic sang through the streets, I could breathe.

Crews plant trees now with a bark said to repel
      Pollution, which I call progress since whatever
Kills them is plainly killing us as well.
Down my block, saplings stand yoked between parallel
      Uprights, the better for breaking them to our weather.

I saw a hummingbird last week, which was weird:
      A hovering emerald, exotic even for Queens.
Something like joy rayed through me, only to disappear
Since wherever its wing-blur belonged, it wasn’t here.
      I try, but cannot not know what it meant.  Means.


A New Yorker by birth (and likely by death), James McKee enjoys failing in his dogged attempts to keep pace with the unrelenting cultural onslaught of late-imperial Manhattan.  After holding a number of ludicrously unsuitable jobs, he spent over a decade teaching at a small special-needs high school. His poetry appears in Ploughshares, Acumen, The Raintown Review, Saranac Review, The South Carolina Review, THINK, The Worcester Review, The Rotary Dial, and elsewhere. He currently works as a private tutor and spends his time, when not writing or reading, traveling less than he would like and brooding more than he can help.

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4 Responses

  1. 绿山从 From Green Mountain (Cong Lu Shan)

    James also writes classical poetry. A breath-taking sight.


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