William Michaelian

Poems, Notes, and Drawings

I Count the Bricks in Buildings

Reading this poem now, more than thirteen years after it was written, it seems to reveal as much about the process of writing as it does about the little city that has been my home since 1987. I include it here for both reasons. I also include it because I’m a sentimental old fool who loves his poetic children for all they have taught him, and who is exceedingly grateful for all they so generously forgive.

 
I Count the Bricks in Buildings

In the city, I see battered buses running
and the hot dog man praying in the wind,
I see businessmen starved for sun,
I see sales clerks, window-washers,
cab drivers, waitresses, and cooks,
I see April blossoms fading and green leaves growing,
I see weeds sprouting and watered by the rain,
I see black streets kissed by fumes and
shimmering with kaleidoscopes of oil,
I see church spires, furnaces,
and white steam rising,
I count the bricks in buildings
and linger in the alleys,
I open my hands and feel hope
cooling in my palms,
I inhale the smell of fresh-baked bread,
of coffee brewing and cigarettes,
I take shelter in women’s sad perfume
and pity their feet in worn-out shoes,
I wonder at their fingertips and lips
and missing smiles as they slowly pass me by,
I see poor men begging while
crows feast joyfully on crumbs,
I see anxious shopkeepers
sweeping with their brooms,
betrayed by dust and taxes coming due,
I see women and men smiling in tavern windows,
I see boys with guitars, girls on errands,
street-side clocks and canvas awnings,
I see old names showing through faded paint,
metal fans in upstairs windows,
abandoned doorways,
the ascending steps of narrow dirty stairs,
ribbons, flowers, signs, and banners,
I see them all and one by one,
bring them home and lay them on my table,
the sticks and rocks and bones,
the unfinished stories and poems I see,
the whimpering child and whining dog,
the fallen tree I see and squirrels in the park,
the gray pigeons nodding on the ledge,
the cakes in windows, clothes, and conversation,
the icy glasses sitting in puddles of foam,
the anger, unfairness, and truth I see,
and in the quiet listen to them speak,
first to one another and then solemnly to me,
about street lamps flickering at dusk,
about broken glass, rain-soaked shoes,
and dead men’s names melting in the gutter,
and the pride and courage in the street I see,
as the lights turn green and the restless
people push away from shore.

Songs and Letters, May 4, 2005

Categories: Songs and Letters

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