The Manhattan Review
The Manhattan Review
Established 1980

Archive > Vol. 7 no. 2


D. Nurkse

Childhood and the Great Cities


In the dark room, my father
unpacks his books
and sets them on the dusty shelf
in order of weight.
Marx. The Bible. The Atlas.

He runs a finger
along his knife-edge crease
and coaxes his trousers
onto the clasp hanger.
He will not wake me.

These sheets are stiff
From honeymoon come.
When I turn to face the wall
I hear voices of lovers
crying inside the plaster.

Now my father lies beside me
and clasps his hands
over his pale belly.
In case I can read his mind,
he dreams in his own language.


We are still in the middle of the journey
from Alpha to Omega,
Petersburg to Los Angeles,
dual power to worker's state.

Each city is larger than the last,
each room smaller,
each keyhole more dazzling.

When I tiptoe to the curtain
I see a general on a stone horse
and moonlit slums—roofs crisscrossed
by immense names, massed laundry,
towers where every window is lit.

After midnight my father grunts
softly, not to wake me.
Soon he begins talking
in the old language,
haltingly at first,
then in a flood
as the tears come back to him.

And I’ll sit crosslegged until dawn
to guard him from that stranger
with whom he bargains
in that terrified voice.