City of Tides


When the reporter asked him
about the city, he spoke in Quechua
of the rivers— east and west— coiling and
uncoiling the bristling island,
making it strong.
Though he might not have said “strong;”
maybe “enduring,” or “resilient.”
Or “beautiful”— that too.
For what impressed the shaman was not
the brittle power of the skyline, nor the human
rivers spilling down the avenues,
the teeming subways, the noose-like highways—
but the tide-swept, mercurial light
at the edges,
the way the city becomes unstitched,
the towers undulant, sheathed in rippling silence.
It was not the bustle that entranced him,
but what contained it— the net
of estuaries, bays and harbors,
unsleeping, even while the city slept,
changing direction every few hours,
always leaving, always arriving
like blood within the chambers of the heart.
Long ago, the serpent, Amaru,
dozing below the Earth
during a termless drought,
awoken by two tears of the Great God,
rose and encircled the globe
with Living Waters.
Some day, the shaman told him,
we too would see those waters
glinting beyond the city of this world.

Richard Schiffman

About the poet: Richard Schiffman is a former journalist and author of two biographies: Mother of All, and Sri Ramakrishna, A Prophet For the New Age. His poems have appeared, or are upcoming in Poetry East, The North American Review, Southern Poetry Review, 32 Poems, Rosebud, Valparaiso Poetry Review and other journals.