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Double Take

In 1973, my first time here,
I’d stood in wonder with my head strained back
As dizzily I’d tried to see how high
The buildings had to reach to scrape the sky,
Then lowered my gaze just like a steeplejack,
Who staring straight ahead finds nothing sheer.

Instead now I’m a resident who knows
To cross Manhattan’s gridded streets it’s best
When lights are red to zig and when they’re white
To zag – a kind of crow’s rectangle flight,
Combining north or south with east or west,
Allowing chance to lead me by the nose.

And yet my sights too low do I neglect
The joys I’m underlooking as I pass?
Careering too determined and hard-nosed,
I miss those older buildings juxtaposed,
With superstructures shaped in steel and glass,
Where classical and modern intersect;

Or how the scrapers taper, tilt or lean,
To strike us with new beautiful contours;
How topmost floors designed to counteract
Excessive symmetry are stacked,
And houses show surprise entablatures –
So much unless we look remains unseen.

On top of one apartment block my eye
Picks out what seems at first some weeds grown wild,
But they’re well-watered leaves of terrace trees
Seen peeping over penthouse balconies –
The rooftop plants you’d tended as a child,
Still waste their green on earthbound passers-by.

I can’t be too unworldly or withdraw –
I live my lower days here down-to earth,
Look horizontally for safety’s sake –
But suddenly a higher double take
Delights still in my love’s New York rebirth.
I’m staring heavenward again in awe.

Micheal O’Siadhail is the author of sixteen volumes of poetry. His latest book-length poem The Five Quintets was previously reviewed by Frank Armstrong for Cassandra Voices.

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