Monday, April 6, 2009

Valentine For New York

In honor of National Poetry Month, and in anticipation of the April 7 Tenement Talk with poet Stephen Wolf, we're posting some of our favorite poems from his New York-centric collection I Speak of the City.
By Phyllis McGinley (1905 -1978)

Moscow is Red, Pittsburgh is gritty
I know a nicer kind of city.
It's on the Hudson, not the Rhine.
Manhattan, be my valentine.

Tumultuous town, absurd and thunderful,
I think you're wonderful-
Sleeping or walking, frivolous or stable,
Down at the heel, or opulent in sable,
I like your voices, single or together.
I even like your weather
(Your rains, your wind that down the river blows,
Your heat, your fogs, your perishable snows).
I like your pomp and civic ceremony.
I like you real. I love you when you're phony.
In other words, no matter where I gad about,
You're what I'm mad about.

Then stay with me and be my dear,
Accept this honest flattery,
And I will sing your praises, clear
From Harlem to the Battery.

I sing the Empire State that magnates dwell in.
I sing Sixth Avenue without the "L" in,
Bedraggled square and screaming boulevard,
And Mr. Morgan's elegant back yard.
I sing St. Thomas's, which sponsors marriages.
I sing your parks equipped with lads and wenches,
With dogs on leashes, and with tots in carraiges
And men on wooden benches.
I sing the penthouse, harboring your elite,
And four-flight walkups snug on Barrow street;
Your native cops, more virile than the Bobby,
And Powers models and the Astor lobby.
I sing your Automats,
Your gentle tearooms, wary of the scallion;
The colony, where wend the risible hats,
And tables d'hote excessively Italian;
And ferryboats and boogie-woogie bands
And Nedick Orange stands.

Metropolis, aloud I praise
Your febrile night, your clamorous days.
Not even the sales tax, trying hard,
Can cut in two my deep regard.

Be mine, be mine:
Shop, subway, danceteria, picket line;
The Planetarium, replete with stars;
Buses and banks and debutante bazaars;
And traffic lights reflected, when it rains,
In all the pavemenets; and the skiing trains;
Orchids by Schling and men in areaways
Selling bouquets;
The show that sells out and the one that closes;
Auctions, and all the deeds of Mr. Moses,
And Sunday bells, and pretty secretaries
Eating their lunches at soda stands or dairies;
Progressive schools that cope with Freudian symbols,
And monastaries selling at Gimbels;
Jaywalkers, and St. Patrick's Day parades;
And part-time maids,
And art museums, where I take my aunts;
And Mott Street, and Ballroom Renaissance,
Where sound the brasses that the dancers spin to;
And El Morocco, which I've never been to;
And kitchenettes and pubs,
And Kansas clubs;
The elms at Radio City, spreading tall;
Foghorns, and pigeons - yes, and Tammany Hall.
Let others, finding flaw or pointing fault,
Accept you with their cautious grains of salt.
Egregious city, facing towards the sea,
Abide with me.

Boston's well bred, and Philadelphia's Blue.
Borough of Manhattan, I love you.

Above: A 1945 snapshot of traffic lights reflected in the rain by Arthur Leipzig, a Brooklyn-born photographer known for capturing New York's streets during the 1940s and 50s.

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