The Manhattan Review
The Manhattan Review
Established 1980

Archive > Vol. 3 no. 1


Christopher Bursk 

The Steam Tunnels Under Harvard


Zajar sanvith tar Brem,
Sinth, Brem.

The tunnels could be reached by each building’s
cellar door, but my brother
wanted us to disappear
off the street, lifted the manhole lid, wheeled it aside,
made me lower myself first into the black circle,
then somehow with one hand held to the rim,
with his other dragged the lid and its darkness over us,
and we dropped into the steam
landing softly.

We moved in and out each doorsill’s
zone of light, wandering
deep under Harvard, took the same liberties the pipes did,
drawing words from our throats
that were the earth’s before they were ours:
astragoen janth ka,
vis brachien.

Shadows ahead of us,
shadows behind.
We walked till our legs ached and the ache
became a bond between us,
between the darkness and us.
Underground we told each other fears and dreams
we’d never share, even in bed.

Occasionally we’d grow so frightened
I’d beg my brother
to let us rise. In strange offices we’d pretend
to be lost, looking for the lunchroom
and bring down light’s nourishment with us,
once more sure the brilliant world was still over us.
The air above us was clean and American
and dangerous, Timothy said,
our father’s world, not ours.

When we came to the door for the stairwell
leading up to father’s office
I lingered there,
ran my hand along its threshold’s brightness.
Timothy did too.
Then we moved on. I let my brother draw me away.

Ekanar kehn. Brem takien lith.
By now we were committed.
There were more dark ways to choose.