The Manhattan Review
The Manhattan Review
Established 1980

Archive > Vol. 14 no. 1


D. Nurkse

The Rolling Mills of Ecorche, Michigan


A red signal held us.
My father whispered
now, now, now, now, now.

Exactly on the final NOW
the light changed
and we were gone
never again to see that street
of jiffy lubes and a locked bakery.

On the highway
he drove with such pride and power
the other cars were streaks of light.

I said, how far? How far?
My father answered: we’re here.
We were indeed in that city
I had dreamt of all my life.

Avenue of embassies
for countries I never knew existed —
Austro-Hungary, Sumeria —
guarded by stone lions
with rapt famished eyes.

Then the neighborhood changed,
— so fast! — tenements
with chipped marble stoops,
a blind wing of laundry
flapping between roofs.

I asked my father
where will we sleep?

Here he said and parked.
We entered a boardinghouse
to negotiate — how many sheathes of bills
in this city, for just one night?

But the old lady smiled at me
and slipped me a boiled sweet;
how hard to peel off
the sticky wrapper
without my father seeing. 

In that airless room
he opened the closet door
to undress in privacy
but as soon as we slept
I was back on that road
on which my father had a second to live,
a half-second, an eighth.

In the red-tinted windshield
the rolling mills were receding,
blast furnaces of Ecorche,
flares that made the sky dark.

I touched him,
in sleep I could still touch him,
sensed the power of his concentration
and whispered: how long?