People here think my accent
is charming because America
is young. Today at the Friday bakery
filled with old ladies I asked about
raisin buns piled in the glass case,
and the woman behind the counter
volunteered that she had family
in Philadelphia. I don’t understand
the kinds of bread here—there are
so many. Bread always feels elemental,
and moving is a time-honored way
to improve one’s condition. Bap. Farl.
Wheaten. Soda. Barmbrack. People migrate.
I have moved here, as long as they’re willing
to maintain me, but I am an empty Beaux-Arts
palace. Here, all of the restaurants place
long white taper candles on every table.
Even for breakfast, they are lit.
In silver holders. In candelabras.
Here, the streets are always wet,
though I never see it rain. The darkness
is pervasive. At home there is snow.
At home the bones of a dog rest
on a fire escape, and everywhere sirens
have a long history of catastrophe. It is
our job to see only the person in front of us—
not the stereotype—but I am American,
and many here feel America should be
taken apart with a screwdriver. Maybe
it already has been. I’ve been gone that long.
I no longer wear my youth like buzzing electrons.
A map is permission to get lost, but here
the neighborhoods are well-marked
by their inhabitants: people who don’t
take no for an answer. It isn’t safe there.
It isn’t safe here. The graffiti says I’ll put
a bullet in your head. Says fuck the world. But
I have to wake up at a reasonable hour
to take my son to swim lessons.
Most art grows out of normality.
How do they identify the enemy here
when everyone looks the same? Names.
Accents. Boundary lines. We preserve
the past by taming it so there are stories,
and always more stories.
Erika Meitner is the author of four books of poems, including Copia (BOA Editions, 2014), and Ideal Cities (HarperCollins, 2010).