by Christopher Bernard
Urbi et orbi
Myself, I prefer a city with no one in it,
or, if not exactly no one, only a few.
It’s like being in an enormous sculpture garden,
immense minimalist slabs
of glass and concrete throwing shadows
dark as poetry across streets grown modest
with stillness and opening trustingly as a child’s hand.
The few people there look less grotesque
when teased out of the crowd –
the way a solitary farmer turning his field,
a pair of friends or lovers, a daydreaming
hiker, seen in a summer countryscape
between bays of woods and folds
of pastureland and field, under
an ingenuously immense sky
make the dignity of humankind,
its vulnerable nobility,
palpable, and not the poorly spun joke
it seems so often
in a city hysterical, delirious, and crammed.
No: our monuments, our things,
the traces of care in the woodwork,
the shadow of a mind molded from a sun –
tools and toys and trinkets, engines and edifices,
the shape of a hand on a prehistoric cave wall,
a flute played shyly on a Sunday morning –
make me less ashamed of being human.
I wander the empty city like a hunter
in a wilderness, except that I have found
the object of my hunt, and hold it close
inside my coat, where I can feel its heart
beating, and its warmth, and its wings.
The Coyotes of North Beach
Sunset, spring: a strange wailing
rises from the gorge under our house
cautiously balanced on a cliff edge
as on a knife
above a valley where coyotes are gathering.
Strange indeed for a city
(our neighborhood, part declivity, part escarpment,
is strange enough for any city).
But maybe not strange for a city
largely emptied from a malady
emptying much of the world –
and giving meaning to the "pan"
in panache, panama, pancake, panjandrum,
Panglossion, Pandragon, pandemic –
and so giving way to wilderness
seeping back into the streets,
crows appraising the roof tops,
mountain sheep strolling about in Wales,
curious spiders measuring bus shelters
with their delicate silks,
coyotes gathering at cross streets
and dancing in the glimmering streetlights
as they flicker on in the dusk
and making their coyote-like noisings,
as sweet as they are uncanny,
in the city's deepening twilight.
Why are they wailing so?
Is it from fear, or loneliness, or need for love?
How did the coyotes know
that they are speaking for us?
Christopher Bernard is co-editor and poetry editor of the webzine Caveat Lector. His new novel, Meditations on Love and Catastrophe at The Liars’ Café, appeared in January 2020.