When the Lights Come On
—New York City, Winter, 2011
Not the nascent clatter, though that’s welcome. Not the flag raised against darkness. Not the tawny cabs purring curbside. Not the snow piled in the square, though its fulsomeness weans the city from night. Not the flat blue above tendriled elms, string of lights, sudden bricks and glass, blurred taillights, exhaust-haze, lone woman on a bench, lamp posts leaned like swans over the causeway. Not the boulevard’s constellations forming and shifting, conspiracy of lights glowing in offices, not the entire quickening, but this: a man looks out, past the fire escape’s wrought iron and feels, in dusky light, before the day succumbs to rumble and hum, to clatter—a tender hopefulness, like a boy shooting baskets in an empty gym who thinks every dream still possible, every shot going in.
Monet’s Waterlily paintings are full of the dead: The heaped corpses, the browns and grays, the scarlet mouths of flowers. And Renoir’s boating party continues its ferocious dedication to decorum and flirtation. We’d do anything to forget the bloated bodies flowering on the cratered battlefields, or heaped in the trenches, the steady deathward plod, clods of marl and shattered limbs, men blinded by powder, guts splayed, the beautiful ruin. “O, o, o,” she says, “mon petit chien.” Later they will dress the poodle in ribbons and feed her biscuits. Later, they will step along the marshy shore, dainty beneath their twirling parasols. When the lady’s shoe stabs the mud and is sucked from her foot, they will open their red mouths and cry out. She was leaning to see the lilies, someone will say to the man who already glides lightly over the spongy earth to where she stands, one foot lifted, her leg like the neck of a swan startled from grazing, ready to flatten herself along the grass and hiss.
Jon Davis is the author of six chapbooks and four full-length collections of poetry: Improbable Creatures (Grid Books, forthcoming October 2017), Preliminary Report (Copper Canyon Press, 2010), Scrimmage of Appetite, for which he was honored with a Lannan Literary Award in Poetry, and Dangerous Amusements, for which he received the Lavan Prize from the Academy of American Poets. Dayplaces, which Davis translated from the Arabic with the author, Iraqi poet Naseer Hassan, is forthcoming from Tebot Bach Press in April 2017. Short stories have appeared in Denver Quarterly, Outerbridge, Monkeybicycle, Basalt, Flash, Versal, and McSweeney's Internet Tendency. He is Director of the MFA Creative Writing Program at the Institute of American Indian Arts.