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The Sentinels of Straus Park

Eyes on the street

the men on benches

never are they not

sitting in state

southward in sight

of Broadway, West End,

Duke Ellington,

each corner a convergence:

breaking bus drivers

huddling, summing

up the route at their terminus,

bodega deal struck,

bag runners, joggers,

cane shufflers, bikers

skipping in deliverance

the red lights. All day

this and nothing happens—

unrelenting movement

glutting to still life.

The watchers beneath

the park’s gingko masts—

seedless, rankless, male,

ready to go down with the ship,

all arms outstretched

across all benches, full

ghost men between the trunks,

slipping under or bracing

for labor—talk,

turning to no one,

parallel proposals aims

cityward: permit parking;

rent reform; the Mets,

bats; the Yankees, bull-

pen. On ball alone

they face each other—

diamonds and balls,

the day shapes the rivalries,

the hotter collisions—

shake fingers and scout

backward, reports

retreating to the coverage

of better seasons

beneath the gingkoes.

I have despaired

of watching men—

following so long

their eyelines

to the quickening

women, the casual

abuses of the street

march, fighting or ignoring

male orders. Here the watchers

look otherwise, at all

and nothing—tapering

late the people the prow

of Manhattan Valley

surviving men’s eyes

the last ones to trust.

The First Cool Day

Knowing the forecast we had opened

all the windows at night. Now the morning

breeze rebodies forth a house

almost lost in its stiff tenancies.

Loosening thrum of August,

late lavender and the jay cry,

linemen whirring some distant utilities—

all that rushes in on the summer’s

reposing, windy muscles, no object

but the lift of objects through the waving,

sun-spangling curtain, lissome figures

fashioning their fleet arrangements:

bug-husk and calk-flake, first or last

dead leaf of a season alighting,

a stirred book, the shuffle

and cascade of our papers

across the vanity—still life after still

life created, destroyed

under the curtains’ fluttering

rebolera. There are movements

we require to be full—

learning to welcome what blows

through, what occupies, what will come

when we open all the doors.


Ryan Harper is an Assistant Professor of the Practice at Fairfield University. He is the author of My Beloved Had a Vineyard, winner of the 2017 Prize Americana in poetry (Poetry Press of Press Americana, 2018). Some of his recent poems and essays have appeared in Paperbark, Meniscus, Fauxmoir, Kithe, Consequence, Fatal Flaw, Cimarron Review, and elsewhere. A resident of New York City, Ryan is the creative arts editor of American Religion Journal.

Two Poems by Ryan Harper

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