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Weekly Poem: Michael Davidson reads ‘The Second City’

The Second City

for Cathy Simon

Even though there are motorized conveyances
I am on foot; even though there is a map
I negotiate the streets by landmark

there are no landmarks
but a series of edges
common to several cities

the hill is in San Francisco,
the great shopping district
with its glittering windows

and esplanade before the fountain
is in New York
and the river with its bridges is in Paris

I’m working on the park
with its glass botanical gardens
marble pillars in the distance

leftover from the exposition
there is probably a hill
from which I descend

and arrive at the “market district” below
clearly indicated by the word “brick”
like those on the west side of Buffalo

to make this descent
is to parse the terrifying grid
of hill cities, roads

dead-ending against canyons, barriers
where a street careens into space
and continues below

bearing the same name
so that a second city rises
out of the forgotten one

more pointed because not yet filled in
by monument or palisade
the place where water touches land

and forms a line
the leaflike veins of streets
it is too late

> for the bus
and I must walk from North Beach
to the Bronx or something with a B

through the middle city
the place a middle occupies
when you are no longer familiar

and the buildings have only been seen
by night from a car
and by lights

I am afraid
someone will address me in French
and I will forget the word for myself

having so recently arrived
and yet to be a stranger
is to be swallowed up

without words
without glasses
bearing an envelope with a numbered series

in the second city
I live out the dream of the first
living neither for its access and glamour

nor dying from its disregard
simply talking toward the twin spires
of an ancient cathedral
like a person becoming like a person

“Am I inventing the city or is the city inventing me?”

That is the question that absorbed Michael Davidson as he wrote “The Second City,” a poem “about the city you create in your dreams.” Fascinated by modernism, urban redevelopment and dreamscapes, Davidson focuses on cities and consumerism in many of his poems. This poem he believes is a bit more optimistic than the others.

“It’s a city created by architects and urbanists who have fantasies of utopian uses for populations in groups,” Davidson told Art Beat.

“And what are the materials out of which I’m making the second city? Of course, since I’m making it out of a poem, I’m making it out of language. So a lot of the lines are about how I need to go for a walk from one part of the city to another and it could be as distant as the Bronx or San Francisco but I do it by means of associations with the (letter) B, like brick. It’s a city created in language.”

Sometimes his brand of writing is considered “difficult poetry,” but Davidson’s advice is to keep trying. “Poetry like anything else requires training. You have to swim laps, you have to jog, you have to keep at it.” Residing in England for the moment, Davidson is reading contemporary British poetry, perhaps for the first time. He said that at the beginning, he didn’t understand the poems, but “little by little I’m picking up on themes, voices, rhythms, concerns”

“If you want to make a soufflé, there’s going to be a lot of failed eggs. You have to keep at it.”

Photo by Sophia Davidson

Michael Davidson is a professor of literature at University of California, San Diego. Davidson has published five other books of poetry, including “The Arcades” (O Books, 1998). “Bleed Through: New and Selected Poems” (Coffee House Press, 2013) is his first book of poems in 15 years and will be on the shelves in December.

“The Second City” is reprinted by permission from Bleed Through (Coffee House Press, 2013). Copyright © 2013 by Michael Davidson.

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