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Poetry #29
(published March 1, 2001)
Now Entering the Floating City
by Melanie Kenny

We tell the children the first citizens asked for iridescent gates,
colors that clashed and clanged with wind.
But the gatekeeper knew better
and built them smooth as graphite,
hard as greed.

The gates shimmer a heavy oil.
People pass through quickly, careful not to touch.
A map of the city evolves on our palms:
mainstreet lines, mounts of numbered avenues.
Soul-weary citizens slice the subdermal maps from their hands,
pare back the mount of venus, and risk a life line
only to find the image migrated to forearm, belly, small of back.
The tame fortuneteller can tell only where we've just been:
chatting with a guildsman, lost in a corridor of shops,
or waiting for the man in the square writing homes.

He unfolds each house, pulling it from his pencil tip
as the magician draws a scarf from his sleeve.
His instructions are simple: water gently.
Year after year, he writes while citizens
drop the potted houses off the gates' edge
and hope they land in a cleared spot of earth.
We all dream of escaping the city, putting down roots.

Our flight is finite, bound by metal,
chained to an unknown anchor.
The links are round as the strongman's belly, thick as his arm.
The harsh metal shares the gates' oily sheen,
undulates like muscle under a mare's flank.
Once we were connected by the city's senses: gate, hand map, chain.
Now the little gate on each palm locks us apart.

A fog rises, cumin and fenugreek mixed with street;
another gypsy caravan spills into the canals.
Sojourning tinkers and settled expatriates smile
with the knowledge of elsewhere and the city's invitation.
They are chosen, woken suddenly with a crudely tattooed map-
doomed always to be lost, but to be loved by the city,
offered its certain pleasures.

If you only understand one thing,
understand this: we are adrift.
The city in the clouds.
The soul of dead venice.
The city floats. Our scientists are forbidden
by the gatekeeper to study the mechanism.
Imagine a clenched fist, held out-
a satellite of the body distant.
The chain is a promise that once we belonged.
Once we were reeled out and could be reeled in again.

from The Floating City

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