NEW YORK: SILENCE EXISTING AMID CHAOS

Photo+courtesy+of+Wikimedia+Commons

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Kailie Foley, Features Editor

A poetry collection titled “Poems of New York” put together by Elizabeth Schmidt sat on my lap as I gazed outside of the window from my bed. I scanned the street comparing every inch of pavement to what New York looked like the last time I had seen it.

New York was founded in 1624, and ever since then it has been a place where culture lives. New York is a home shaped by ideas and dreams in the eyes of many. 

Each poem in the collection was written by a person who admired and observed New York in a different way. I scanned the buildings on the cover wishing to go back to the moment I was standing in the middle of a city radiant with light.

I wondered what New York would sound like from my perspective in a single poem, and this thought took me back to the memory of traveling to New York for the first time.

I gazed out of the plane window, and my eyes met the cloudy sky and drifted down to the city buildings below me. As most people were admiring the Statue of Liberty, I was paying attention to the way the buildings aligned together thinking about how many people were peering out of a window observing the city’s movement.

After the plane landed, I made my way to Manhattan in a bright yellow taxi cab. The noise of drivers honking their cars overwhelmed my ears. I thought about how every single car had a different place to advance to, and I wondered where my place to advance to was. 

As I made my way to the busiest streets of the city, I stepped out of the vibrant yellow taxi. The chaos in the air reached me from the moment I took my first breath. 

As I looked around, every person walked with a purpose. I soon figured out that the city made them accept their worth and caused them to be aware of who they were and where they wanted to be. As I walked down the streets of Manhattan, not knowing where I was going, I realized that the city helped me find my way. 

The light of the streets met the light of the sky. As the day faded into night, the light reached out for each heart in sight, mimicking the sun. 

 I looked up to the night sky and noticed the first time in my life I felt like myself even though I did not know who I was yet. At night was when the city was alive, just like my heart and mind. I realized at this moment that this city was a place I could call home. I did not have a clue about who I was, but the city made it so clear to me who I wanted to be.

A small diner with a long waiting line met my eyes and caught my attention causing me to stop in place for a moment. I advanced through the doors after waiting in line and glanced at my surroundings. The diner was crowded with smiling faces. Above me the words “This is Stardust” lit up in red and white. I was soon seated at a booth on the first level of the diner and ordered a coffee malt off of the menu. As I waited, I looked around. Everyone was laughing and looked as if they were at home within their hearts. My heart felt complete as the workers started to sing to every visitor with passion-filled eyes. 

I realized when watching the workers perform in the diner’s small space that every person was so close, yet so far from their dreams at the same time. I never wanted to leave the comfort of the diner, so I came back each night that I was able to call New York my home.

Every morning I woke up to loud, yellow taxis honking all over again. I realized people stay in the city to be productive and at work during the day, but at night a person could be whoever they wanted to be. Someone could be free even if they had no idea what the difference between dreams and reality were. No matter who a person was at the time or what they were doing, on a night in New York, in the light of the city, a person could look up at the sky and find out who they were no matter how lost they once were. 

The story of me stepping foot on New York’s pavement now calls my heart home. Each place I have traveled to has given me a part of myself. It often feels like parts of me are lost when I move on to visit another place. Now whenever I visit a travel destination I can feel the missing parts of people clinging to the places where memories have been made. 

As I look around me, I see the invisible personal history of each person who has their footprints engraved into the earth’s core. A part of me lives outside of that diner and that diner lives with me wherever I step foot.

Coming to New York was the first time I realized silence remained in the sky no matter how much chaos was near the ground. Now whenever I feel far from myself, I look up at the sky. I am reminded of all of the places I call home. The silence reaches out to me and calms my mind for a moment as the sky covers each place I have yet to lose a part of myself in.

I gazed down at the book in my hands and was brought back to my surroundings. Mark Strand transported me to New York and back in a single poem.

 

Poem:

Night Piece (After Dickens)

By Mark Strand

 

A fine bright moon and thousands of stars!

It is a still night, a very still night

and the stillness is everywhere.

 

Not only is it a still night 

on deserted roads and hilltops

where the dim, quilted countryside seems to doze

as it fans out into clumps of trees dark and unbending

against the sky, with the gray dust of moonlight upon 

them,

 

not only is it a still night 

in backyards overgrown with weeds, and in woods,

and by tracks where the rat sleeps under the

garnet-crusted rock,

and in the abandoned railroad station that reeks of

mildew and urine,

and on the river where the oil slick rides the current

sparkling among islands and scattered weirs,

 

not only is it a still night

wherever the river winds through marshes and mud

flats fouled

by bottles, tires, and rusty cans, and where it narrows

through the sloping acres of higher ground covered

with plots

cleared and graded for building,

 

not only is it a still night

wherever the river flows, where houses cluster in small 

towns,

but farther down where more and more bridges are

reflected in it,

where wharves, cranes, warehouses make it black and 

awful,

where it turns from those creaking shapes and mingles

with the sea,

 

and not only is it is still night

at sea and on the pale glass of the beach

where the watcher stands upright in the mystery and 

motion of his life

and sees the silent ships move in from nowhere he has

ever been,

crossing the path of light that he believes runs only

to him, 

 

but even in this stranger’s wilderness of a city

it is a still night. Steeples and skyscrapers grow 

more ethereal, rooftops crowded with towers and ducts 

lose their ugliness under the shining of the urban moon;

street noises are fewer and are softened, and footsteps

on the sidewalks pass more quickly away.

 

In this place where the sound of traffic never ceases

and people move like a ghostly traffic from home to work

and home,

and the poor in their tenements speak to their gods

and the rich do not hear them, every sound is merged,

this moonlight night, into a distant humming, as if

the city, finally, were singing itself to sleep.