A Sketch of the City at Night

The rain was heavy with God’s venom. Time had crinkled the leaf-edge and clothed the pavement bronze, and each tarmac puddle turned black by the time the sun went down, and the neon overheads had pinked the streets. The hue of the streetlights goldened the rain as it pattered on umbrella tops. The stars had found their place in the rain-slick luster of vacant taxi ranks. Up the street, to the horizon, the moon’s white coin blinked between clouds, shining only enough to reveal the dark of the empty car lots, the timeworn pearl of the scratched road paint, the emerald pinpoints of the distant cat’s eye. And along the stone path, through the damp alleyways, the echo of passing heels, to the high street, where the old tramp coughed for a coin.

Her eyes were immediate. Clear and coincidental, like two ink drops splashed in milk. Her eyelids, restless in the rain, fluttered like the inter-folding petals of an infinitely petaled rose. They caught pedestrians briefly in unexpected desperation and, once having nearly passed, cooled to a tired flame, and so twanged the rattle of her tin behind each back. Walking away, she just looked like a pile of clothes.

It had turned cold. The keen autumn winds had come swiftly to the city and removed the summer stench of warm garbage and blooming tidewater that lingered under high bridges. Below the metal seawall, past the surf-drenched breakwater, the sea swirled powerfully and lapped up the summer fishbones, and the old bait-fish, kept in high pyramids along the promenade, had turned oxblood in the moonlight and blackened to dark glass under growing cloud-cover. The sharp rattle of the harvest leaves pulled by wind over pavement stirred the scene with the faint thump of techno music from a nearby nightclub, and the clamor of drunks, giddy with vodka and cigarettes, called out in unfiltered excitement along the roadside.

Across the vacant outer streets, past the public park green, the wind beat softly at a swingset. The shrill of the neglected chain joined the gentle chatter of darting bats spiraling the yellow street lamps, doubling-back in flashes as they crisscrossed the light beam. The swing pendulumed as a leaf fell, and we are reminded that events are always coming together to form new wholes in new places at new times, and each new moment is before itself both unique and familiar. Here, the nocturnal part of the city was far enough away that it was barely audible. Only the distant sea-swell hummed in the air. Always present, a brief interjection of silence; a soft knocking of the bat wing; a quick patter of rats’ feet; the crackling of the harvest-ready barley, was met with the deep rumble of sea on rock. The rhythm of a calm that is constant in the world but impossible to keep for more than a moment.


Disparate colours sheen
A scatter of songbirds, like graceful
Shopping bags,
Crisscross the lightbeam
In flashes of black.

I’d say no in my mind — the echos know
No no no no
But I am affirming with short
Grunts which ache my throat
Yes yes yes
I know how you feel.

Back at the flat, the slick black
Flint of the wet tarmac
Glistens through my window.
The bed has cold blankets

And shivering I kick my legs
To fan out the quilt like
A gypsy dancer.

When I close my eyes,
All I know is yes.