from Floodstrains

from Floodstrains

                                              IN THE MISTS

Continental Drift

A middle range. Standing before awe
awe rends winter lines
eon spring shredding the waters.
Awe as Everest’s summit is marine limestone.
As magnetic north has reversed
as the moon pulls rock in tides.
As Janáček is righting without stumbling
         mineral cascades
character plying canyons
time’s shelter warmly exposed
         vulnerable to scale.
Slowly and out of grasp, straining to wake
Janáček’s hesitant, patient, rising and falling
five flats under awe

— here just listen —

staggered, sharpened prisms
rising a foam narrows
a braid reglazed from hand to skulls.

A pillar of shale
blades spinning through spring and winter redress.

As a period beneath the present
where the ground shifted.

This is where we lived,
Washington Heights
still marked by geologic time
without human leveling
schist and gneiss of the Manhattan Formation.
Waltz gables
          wood crosses on stucco frames
as from Janáček a genteel but interrupted pace
a mango carved into a rose.
Red and yellow buildings, dark noon halls
meringue machines tinny through corridors
becoming fuller as cars approach, bass buzzing
collapsing waves skirmishes between times.

A bus roaring down Manhattan
as Inwood Marble spreads to Midtown.

And emerging from the A to streetlamps
         quiet a shadow solid on the ground.

Where it was heard
my father had cancer, and I came back to New York.

Dusty, half-mowed loops down from Ft. Tryon,
where Washington shelled hundreds of ships, as he tried to stretch a line across the Hudson.
And down the hill
disinfectant on marble, other smells, acidic, decomposing mice, elevator doors car shaking
apartments shifting in place rafter bare
map-ringed with green and yellow mold
touching the silent body in space, as Janáček storm delivers
         writing from mourning.

Water red curtains the Palisades
trees filling in rush red
green slits within shade
as tearing from Africa
magma flowered up forming the Atlantic.

Still leaning westward
they lend range to the present.

But if they erode past and present
water the sediment range
rages hollowing the core

a thousand continuous betrayals
furnace swells under swells the lost murder bin.

And these were national parts sliding into sea. New York was so hardened and chastened, diamond to the blunt hands that broke them. From mire to razor points. Walking backward the ice roads. As recording permits the expectation we could hear again and not need to remember. As Janáček’s turns, and similes – joyous, not merely pathetic – collapse vision and identity: a middle range between faults, tender to the point of now. But patience will not change the composition of the earth. I did not help my father understand his cancer was incurable. No one brought subterranean fear into care. No motion of earth will salve what will not come again, buried. Days before death he was surprised by it.

Red Shift

Scale to scale
awe as gate painted crests
the stars
         cascades in time
or a levee against it.
Four hundred billion stars our galaxy
two thousand galaxies in Virgo
Virgo is one of ten million.

Awe as gravity once reversed
as chasms between suns and our sight
balanced on a scale of light
the lattice of time.

Awe is that time moves only forward.

As we imagine the departed
hearing music we now hear.
Astonished our hearing
         is to theirs.
What they heard
complete in itself.
What we hear is the same
as complete as our lives
wholly apart.

As some light will never reach us

Chicago – after his death

the Loop, limestone striped
the Guarantee and Accident
         a mass of keys
Carbon and Carbide’s green
sheath, the Old Colony
the Manhattan, solid curves
stone spread through space
solid for the contemplation of space,
the mass that is time.

In neighborhoods, alleys
relativity its unwalkable scale
frozen grandeur, bungalows
stun details – all lined up as frontage trees
         a deposition of place
cooling through catastrophe
its red-plumed sequence.

         Removed from the unearthly
yet the moon is on its doorstep.

From that flatness will emerge – Obama –
a star caught in the gear sky.

From Chicago
a fever of production in meditational
expanse. To give to the moment,

star interregnum – a license to breathe

slanted time
and more correction
our lives without

live your life do not throw it away.

The siren wailing
the raving day

holding to corners
the star wanton ray
you have seen it twice.

What would it take for you to read this and live?

Cracked, dust draws into the sun that created it: war-turning, starry reels. What my father said at the end of his life, that he was not afraid, is both true and not true. Starlight from another time makes this instant congruent with another. Promise may appear next to betrayal. As I let them pass, his last months were the image he wanted to retain of himself, lived with modesty, dedication, optimism; until collapse. But it was also much worse, he retained this quiet image of himself in response to his sense of his failure and fear, and chose oblivion within that, in what tranquility – the starving of the moon. I raise it up by tearing it out.

                                                GAMES (JÁTÉKOK)


What it does have rises, river to ground,
weak mirror separating lives, wide river.

The river standing diary
dead lines the rovers
whose relentless character
opens warmly to spare waters.

Flooding clockwork
let us wait for its wake in the harbor.

Its flatness survives
as winter weaves under water
gifted rounds the waves
over the flood and rose storm
these flaredowns of waves
bobolink chestnut winters
serene and yet savage rounds
rats under the waves
greedy tapers
somnambulist and yet insomniac
flood dawn.

The river is given daily,
its diary is integrity.

As Kurtág holds the one toy he found so much time for.
There is no theme except the one note sounded again
bell waters that bring him up.

So leave a tone at the door like an out-of-place ostrich
generous, decoding, patient out of tune
proud of its spacious security
killing itself with remove:

United Water on Mechanic, Kaplan pickle products
Penn Fish, Hargrove Demolition.

Kurtág’s warm bereaving bells
measuring on one hand what the other denies;

marsh ruins and wire rivulets
whose newness does not span the gated tracks,
chimes a flood inlay though them.
A dream inlay flooding the streets.

Camden’s red warehouses,
red as their mirror in Philadelphia
are empty; row houses are knocked in.
The river hardly walking as it pocks or swells

narrow drains broaden in more silence
and let harden these tones a counterpart to the flattened river

immutable though it moves

walking shell to the sun interjecting

razor fine platitudes as a storm teaches one life.

Notes swept over the china-thick river touched nothing except a slight oil glaze.
Games are sad and joyous but they are certainly tokens

left in the basement shattered

where he takes its serial address and makes a waste of play
where the rank river rests easier.

With the zoo river pushing fragments through unsettled, born freight between.

Walt Whitman, resting traveler —

Did you ever feel you were done?
Did you ever feel you could rest?

You are never done, there is always more work

more walking
more waking

a furnace to unending cold, a surge cast off.

My father buried has no rest

the flood overtakes him still.

My father is alive – we walk through the streets of Philadelphia, and there is confusion as I cannot recall the moment of his burial. The confusion becomes familiar, this doubt from other dreams. We continue our walk, it is the river broken by day. As he played with me – gluing cardboard swords to teach Hamlet, his sense to leave the puzzles he called literature unsolved. A diary written as if its lines could be recalled, that he would wake on the other riverbank, not in the Philadelphia of his birth but stranded in the crushing streets of Camden.


There is a quality of comfort
that extends from sorrow.

The river opens broadly,
rises and falls, it may be both equally.

Its storm grain extends
bounds without bounds.

Penn’s shadow
enough that no height pass it
when was the moment enough.

Center City, mirrored ranges
a clean pastime, this humor

these day banks this Philly
stopped by playful means

as a cloud scratches
the sky’s sharp mooring.

We have some immodesty in store for you
but who could believe the buzzing theme is avaunt?

Scrap metal unfurled in the footbridge
pink rays the chance to live broadly
billowing associations the sky skein
marches above marches.
The sun rises and dies at the same hour.
How it springs out of time, strained lucite webs
graining in the Schulkyl’s glittering rest.

World-whirling, flat abiding
humor on the river bottom breaks up

the game of combination,
mudflats deranging out the Chesapeake.

Yellow-crowned and black-crowned night herons
red knot and horseshoe crabs
drowned from Petty’s Island
up and down the Delaware bay
a pair of nesting bald eagles.

Sailing the games between.

And yet return to the river from the city
to wolfed, voracious parting clawing him.

To cast on uniformity a totalizing surmise
winter waves on the shore as the winds split the mast

the landed frontier where sails are torn by bands
waking the reddest coral.

The river is more compelling than the city
however it must be laughing as if terror were an intention

the tape on canvas sheets holding corpses is loose
rolling apart as they are trapped downstream.

While we would instead find those whom rafts will take current directly,
and not in mad acquiescence to structure.

All this genuine play is an animal within – he was trained in bemusement
and boyish resilience, his resilience was always that.

It was that he could project such peace within himself at moments, that tenderness toward himself, as if he were his own brother.

At least torn by opportunity as a ladder
breaks down its rungs,
each self walks up with ladder in their bones.

Even if we do not know what will happen, we care what will happen.

Against Kurtág,

joy in a comedy that is not language

and that circle drawn around the grave,
blistering peace.

His grandfather had a five and dime in West Philadelphia and kept excess stock in the attic: putty that turned into rainbow balloons, plastic ships snapped together, colored pens, oily balls. My father recounted a dream where he opened the attic and felt again a child’s wonder at the stock, with the additional shock that it could be recalled in such tender clarity. As a child he wrote, “I would like to have some sort of memento of my disorganized youth. I like corned beef, liver, Mad Magazine, ‘Have Gun will Travel,’ chocolate bars with nuts, and gruyere cheese. Who knows, maybe an archaeologist of some future will stumble on this Rosetta Stone and make a name for himself.” Let his name be returned to him. Immediate as in a dream, and meant to be woken, as gentle air defies its mass, beyond belief.






David Micah Greenberg is author of Planned Solstice (Iowa). Poems and criticism have appeared in Boston Review, Ploughshares, New Republic, and Colorado Review. He develops and evaluates community initiatives for a social policy group, and lives in New York with his wife and son.


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