Revelations in Small Sunbaked Squares


Joyce Carol Oates

hillsides of houses
hazy and still as the hillsides
of small graves
reel to us as the hills dip
inhabited in the hot slanted light
by inhabitants not visible
in this low-lying swamp of exhaust

               and another wave of hills
sunbaked squares of wall and window
the pressure on our eyes of a half-mountain
pert and squat the small perfect buildings

we are strangers to this city
hungry to interpret
the raw uniform bone of its hills
the treeless reeling streets
hills clung to
by coops of human invention

the neuter passage of thousands
windows heaped on windows
and now a trio of hills to the east
rises slowly to real or mistaken
graves sinking back to houses
thumb-nail-sized coops
streets like twine

               and the mind is fierce to translate
as the hillsides emerge endlessly
patient in miniature
eternal in the acrid glow
sunbaked sunwearied squares
of a great American city

if we longed for a dull infinity once
now we stare in awe at the finite map
of human streets
human bodies imaginable there
beyond our imaginations
urgent and finite in mysteries
beyond our judgment

the city created in our heads
breaks from us and lives suddenly
in its broken piercing vision of itself
a sanctity that will now
interpret us

The city in our heads
breaks from us
swings from us                 free
unconfined               unjudged