Woodlands: A poem by Benjamin Harnett

By Benjamin Harnett



These cities were all woodlands once.
That summer, the streets were named for trees,
I stayed with a girl in an empty house
where the bannisters almost perspired
a sticky dust. We slept
with a pillow between us, once we touched.
The house was across from a cemetery
(called “The Woodlands”), dagger-like
cypresses screened; tombstones stood granite
over buried boxes of bones.
Urban planners had favored once
the fast-growing sycamore, or occidental plane,
and lined with them many blocks
and ours, where they rolled nodding
green, shaggy heads, and reached
for the sky, a century of crucified
Marsyases, casting ragged-bark shingles
as skin, like that goat-foot piper Apollo flayed
for surpassing in song. She took me
to meet some Wharton boys,

downtown, for an Italian lunch: calamari, gnocchi,
and such. I left early, walked
all the way up,
past that mural of Paul Robeson,
Actor ~ Attorney ~ Athlete ~ Humanitarian
overlooking the empty lot
of pale grass tufts and broken glass,
and a road crew on break
from slathering a boiling tar.

Yesterday I spied a young linden tree
growing beneath a subway vent,
stretching for light under the grillwork
and surrounded by bricks. That last worker
flicked his burning cigarette stub—
it sparked neon, then
and went down
like the sun, as if everything
and everything were done.

Benjamin Harnett is a historian, fiction writer, poet, and digital engineer. His works have appeared recently in Pithead Chapel, Brooklyn Quarterly, Moon City Review, and Tahoma Literary Review. His story “Delivery” was chosen as Longform’s “Story of the Week.” He holds an MA in Classics from Columbia University and in 2005 co-founded the fashion brand Hayden-Harnett. He lives in Beacon, NY with his wife Toni and their pets. He can be found most days on Twitter.com: @benharnett. He works for The New York Times.

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