the city smells like sailors

washed up on the shore,

and I wish that I could see them,

crawling in their patched shirts and bloody hands,

as they drag their old bodies through the sand.

the city was a forest once,

and where I sit, four stories up

there were birds, maybe,

or campfire smoke.

I like to sit in places so wide open

that there is nothing

between me and a planet

only the atmosphere,

and dust slipping and sliding inside of it,

just space,

the bridge between

me and Mars.

but I’m sitting in the city.

it is never dark and never quiet

and I am never alone.

I do like sleeping inside a giant hum,

a purple rumble and honk

and all kinds of snoring.

shake me out, like salt and pepper,

to sleep with these smells

and this past and this future,

a stack of history books

closing for the night,

a million musty pages

slid onto a shelf

until tomorrow.

Betsy Brown lives in New York City and studies media, culture and the arts. She is the founder of her college's literary magazine, The Minstrel, and has performed her music and poetry in many eclectic locations, including the Bowery Poetry
Club in Manhattan, the 34th Street subway station, and the Makerere University sculpture garden in Uganda.


For the past three years I have lived as a student on 34th Street in New York City. Sometimes, at three in the morning when jackhammers keep me awake, I sit on my windowsill and write poetry. This one in particular is about my obsession with history and my love-hate relationship with the busyness of the city. I think I love what the city was nearly as much as what the city is, and I live to see those layers every day. Every street is, in a way, a history book, and when I feel overwhelmed by the noise of it all I think about the past. It makes the present even more stimulating.




Copyright 2009