New York Summer

EVERY evening they come, the men and the women,
And the children too, even the babies come,
Up, out, through the box-like attic doors
To sit on the roofs of the ancient city houses
To drowse in the evening in the running gold
From beyond the blackening palisades of the river
In the grave hesitation of twilight.
Like grubs from the soil, only the soil is cooler,
And the dark of the ground is sweeter,
They poke their heads out of perspiring houses.
They come wearily, arms against their brows
To wipe the final sweat. “Don’t it feel good!”
They say and sigh as they seat themselves
On the chairs they have dragged from the kitchen for the old women
The men lean against the chimney in their shirt sleeves.
Their faces are red and day-worn. The women’s hair straggles.
I have seen them brood on the roofs in the evening
In clouds of quietness, uncritical as pigeons.
Their knees are limp and their elbows slacken.
They sit and breathe the warm dusk; breathing is living.
The sea air eases along the Hudson and touches
Their shoulders delicately with soft nudges.
Odor of wharves and tugs weighs on their nostrils.
They will forget the dishes, the cockroach in the kitchen,
Forget the close beds and the tough meat and the torn slip.
They take the quiet and the gold that softens
And ripens and darkens; the silver that whitens
The sky when the gold has gone, and the break of the white star.
They will sit on the low roof and watch the gold river run.
The street lamps hold spheres of pale fire to the dusk.
Light drifts through the sky as the stir of a bell
Drifts through a meadow where no church is. The heart
Pulls to the sun. Above the chattering streets
Silence leans on an enormous elbow.
They will not stay long, sitters on city roofs.
Evening is tenuous as a butterfly and sooner dead.
The sky rushes to the dark. The street lamps blaze
To a steady clang. The child on the roof
Stirs heavily against its mother’s shoulder.
The summer air is hoarse with the baby’s whimper.
The close brown houses are stronger than dusk.
And the voice of the woman darkens with the breeze,
Sighs at the end of silence, “ We’d better go in.”