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From “Model City”


Model City [1]

It was like taking the train across a border between two countries with disparate languages, one built like a fortress and one slinky as a river, and thinking about how orderly languages are, keeping within borders.

                                                      *

It was like anticipating how the station-names will change abruptly from words stout as fortresses to words slinky as rivers right after the border, as if each language lived in a world untroubled by the existence of the other.

                                                      *

It was like crossing the border and trying to feel it underneath the train, to feel this instance of division, of order, of force, of fate. But the border was an abstraction ordering other abstractions, like stout and slinky languages.

                                                      *

It was like noticing the train had stopped at the border and seeing a man outside with the wrong passport apprehended by police—and remembering the luxury of forgetting the brute ordering force of abstractions.



Model City [2]

It was like going to see "The Unbuilt City," an exhibition of architectural plans and models for transforming your city—grids, towers, monumental ministries, vast plazas—that ultimately came to nothing.

                                                      *

It was like wandering through the exhibit looking at futuristic drawings that figure the erasure of the nineteenth-century four-story architecture you love, and feeling pleased the plans came to nothing.

                                                      *

It was like taking note of a resistance in yourself to the futuristic, the futuresque, the future—while not denying a certain nostalgia for antiquated visions of the world of tomorrow.

                                                      *

It was like looking at the futuristic models and thinking about the unbearableness of the present and realizing there are two kinds of people: those who can't wait for the future, and those who can't wait for the past.



Model City [3]

It was like moving into an apartment for the summer furnished only with a bed, a desk, a chair, and an old "world" radio in a brown case, its luminous dial turning to Moscow Berlin Paris Skopje Budapest London and Tangier.

                                                      *

It was like lying in bed at night next to the world-radio, etched with distant cities, which now only gets local stations, and imagining lying in bed in Skopje in the middle of the last century listening to music from Paris.

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It was like lying under the open window thinking the apartment is not big enough, the summer is not big enough, the world is not big enough for the world-radio with its etched cities and its luminous ideals.

                                                      *

It was like leaving the apartment at summer's end and sneaking the world-radio out in your suitcase, for you know that only you understand the radio's faith in a grander, more worldly world—and its inability to transmit it.



Model City [4]

It was like taking a taxi one night through the streets of your adopted city to get home to your rented apartment and passing new hotel after new hotel in every neighborhood.

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It was like seeing the word hotel echoing through the city and feeling the urge to take off your clothes in the taxi, and then to see how much if any of your skin you can take off, to get down to something you own.

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It was like wanting to take off everything, clothes, skin, down to the heart working inside your body, and thinking about how our bodies are hotels for guests we may know but have never seen.

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It was like arriving home and entering your rented apartment like the hotel guest that you are at heart, knowing that you own nothing, not even the vacant body you offer to your loved one.


Donna Stonecipher

The Paris Review

Summer 2013


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