Editor’s note: Dennis Nurkse is the author of numerous collections of poetry, including “The Rules of Paradise” (2001), “The Fall” (2003), and “The Border Kingdom” (2008). Nurkse lives in New York and has been named poet laureate of Brooklyn. In free-verse, lyric poems, Nurkse explores subjects both intimate and political: children, families, love, and the effects of war. He has received a Whiting Writers’ Award, the Bess Hokin Prize from Poetry, grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, and a Tanne Foundation Award. He has taught at Sarah Lawrence College, the Stonecoast MFA Program in Creative Writing, and Rikers Island Correctional Facility.
Behind the tenements lay wild gardens;
a swaddled fig tree, a Muscat arbor.
I propped my forty-foot ladder against a shim
and climbed and began searing the high porches
with a butane torch. I gouged away dead bees,
resin, gum, soot from forges, caulk. Once
the lovers opened their blind and watched
with pursed lips, hand in hand, her breasts
swaying slightly, his penis limp, their gaze
imperious and forgiving, and I missed a spot.
Then I painted white on white, when I finished
those streets were empty, no one lived there
except the rich, chalk-faced in their long divorce.
In that lit window in Bushwick
halfway through the hardest winter
I cut plexiglass on a table saw,
coaxing the chalked taped pane
into the absence of the blade,
working to such fine tolerance
the kerf abolished the soft-lead line.
I felt your eyes play over me
but did not turn-–dead people
were not allowed in those huge factories.
I bargained: when the bell rang
I would drink with you on Throop
under the El, quick pint of Night Train
but you said no. Blood jumped
from my little finger, power
snapped off, voices summoned me
by name, but I waved them back
and knelt to rule the next line.
Waking In Greenpoint in Late August
We wanted so much that there be a world
as we lay naked on our gray-striped mattress,
staring up at a trowel mark on the eggshell blue ceiling
and waiting, waiting for twilight, darkness, dawn,
marriage, the child, the hoarse names of the city—
let there be a universe in which these lovers can wash
at the pearling spigot, and lick each other dry.