Night of the Gowanus

Timothy Donnelly

The drum track refers to matter’s tendency to integrate

     while the notes that make up the melody assert themselves

as individuals, the way particles constitutive of wholes

      always do, recapitulating the dynamic equilibrium of the universe.

Streams of tail- and headlights on the curve of the viaduct

outlined like clip art with the peach tones of sunset under it

and above it a sky’s ombré of icicle-to coal-blue—where a faint few

stars think things over—refer to motorists

as iridescent geometrics on the rippling face of the water

refer to the coal tar dumped into it by industry for

over a century, sludging the canal bottom in thicknesses equal

to twenty mattresses piled one on top the other, as in a fairy tale

of sensitivity, except these mattresses are irrevocably toxic,

and the princess is a phantasm of oyster shells

and auto parts, parts likewise of bodies disappeared here in the dark,

lives grieved without finality as the canal itself is grieving

the tidal inlet of bright creeks intricate with water life

it used to be before Dutch settlers perplexed it into property

from the Lenape, humanity again done in by its own traffic,

confusing its light with stars, to whom such details matter nothing.

Illustration by Joey Gonnella

Timothy Donnelly is the author of four collections of poetry, including Chariot, forthcoming in May from Wave Books. He teaches at Columbia University and lives in Brooklyn, NY.
Originally published:
March 27, 2023


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