S E P T E M B E R 1 9 9 4
MAYAKOVSKY IN NEW YORK: A Found Poem
by Annie Dillard
Lifted, with permission, from Vladimir Mayakovsky's "My Discovery of America"
(1926), in America Through Russian Eyes, edited and translated
by Olga Peters Hasty and Susanne Fusso.
New York: You take a train that rips through versts.
It feels as if the trains were running over your ears.
For many hours the train flies along the banks
of the Hudson about two feet from the water. At the stops,
passengers run out, buy up bunches of celery,
and run back in, chewing the stalks as they go.
Bridges leap over the train with increasing frequency.
At each stop an additional story grows
onto the roofs. Finally houses with squares
and dots of windows rise up. No matter how far
you throw back your head, there are no tops.
Time and again, the telegraph poles are made
of wood. Maybe it only seems that way.
In the narrow canyons between the buildings, a sort
of adventurer-wind howls and runs away
along the versts of the ten avenues. Below
flows a solid human mass. Only their yellow
waterproof slickers hiss like samovars and blaze.
The construction rises and with it the crane, as if
the building were being lifted up off the ground
by its pigtail. It is hard to take it seriously.
The buildings are glowing with electricity; their evenly
cut-out windows are like a stencil. Under awnings
the papers lie in heaps, delivered by trucks.
It is impossible to tear oneself away from this spectacle.
At midnight those leaving the theaters drink a last soda.
Puddles of rain stand cooling. Poor people scavenge
bones. In all directions is a labyrinth of trains
suffocated by vaults. There is no hope, your eyes
are not accustomed to seeing such things.
They are starting to evolve an American gait out
of the cautious steps of the Indians on the paths of empty
Manhattan. Maybe it only seems that way.
Annie Dillard is the author of many books, including Pilgrim at Tinker
Creek (1974), which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction. Her
latest book, The Annie Dillard Reader, will be published next fall.
Copyright © 1994 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights
The Atlantic Monthly; September 1994; Mayakovsky in New York: A Found Poem;
Volume 274, No. 3; page 64.