Sunday, August 29, 2010

Island Cities

Today's poem on The Writer's Almanac:

You see them from airplanes, nameless green islands
in the oceanic, rectilinear plains,
twenty or thirty blocks, compact, but with
everything needed visibility in place—
the high-school playing fields, the swatch of park
along the crooked river, the feeder highways,
the main drag like a zipper, outlying malls
sliced from dirt-colored cakes of plowed farmland.

Small lives, we think—pat, flat—in such tight grids.
But, much like brains with every crease CAT-scanned,
these cities keep their secrets: vagaries
of the spirit, groundwater that floods
the nearby quarries and turns them skyey blue,
dewdrops of longing, jewels boxed in these blocks.

"Island Cities" by John Updike, from Americana: And Other Poems. © Alfred A. Knopf, 2001.


Enbrethiliel said...


This reminds me of the opening passage of one of my favourite novels of all time, Downsiders by Neal Shusterman:

Cities are never random.

No matter how chaotic they might seem, everything about them grows out of a need to solve some problem. In fact, a city is nothing more than the solution to a problem, which in turn creates more problems that need more solutions, until towers rise, roads widen, bridges are built, and millions of people are caught up in a mad race to feed the problem-solving, problem-creating frenzy.

A much busier, less whimsical view, yes, but just the beginning of some of the best prose I've ever read.

Pentimento said...

You will definitely love Mad Men, E!