Empire

Outside the New York City Library, red leaves
were falling from the blue sky, gold leaves
were plastered to the manes of the pink
Tennessee marble lions, and house sparrows
in their black bibs sipped from gutters streaked
with rain water. When the bronze doors closed
on the noisy street, the mute city of ghosts
rolled out its musty stacks, rows of books
hunched between the shelves, their spines
long broken by those in need of a touch
of sanity, some mercy, by those who dare
to pity, once again, Dostoevsky’s horse,
to breathe the yellow steam of sulfur mines,
parse the crude anatomy of those who came before.

Outside the tall windows history
was quietly moving forward, eagerly, clumsily
on its long wobbly legs, wagging its vestigial tail,
and night was falling and lovers were rushing
under the awnings to keep the heaviness of gravity
off their tender shoulders, cabs stomping
at the curbs, cats scouring the alleys, hunting
down dinner, hunting down mates.

But inside the kingdom it was all dust
and a subtle disintegration, all destiny
and the dung beetle, copy after copy
of the plays of Shakespeare, his characters
still spewing vitriol or desire, holding up
a skull or a cudgel, while the lions
of patience and fortitude settled down
on their haunches, crossed their marble paws
and waited for the hungry dogs of dawn.

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