Poem for Display in a City Bus

This entry is part 1 of 14 in the series Public Poems


A reckless poem crushed between ads —
there’s nothing to see here, folks.
Keep moving.


I’m not done writing tool odes, yet, don’t worry! I just got this other idea for what will probably be a shorter series — poems to be placed in public spaces, written with an awareness of their contexts. I’d welcome suggestions of other locations for these poems.

For examples of actual public poems, see the archives of NYC’s Poetry in Motion project, the Pennsylvania Center for the Book’s Public Poetry Project, and especially the CityPoem World Index at the New Urbanist website ErasmusPC.

Poem for Display at a City Reservoir

This entry is part 3 of 14 in the series Public Poems


Attention suicides: please have the consideration
to drown elsewhere. It is not that your body
would be especially toxic — that’s a myth.
But what we crave in water is an absence of taste,
not the taste of absence.

Also, kindly make sure your water bill is paid up.
It’s the least you can do for your neighbors,
who will soon probably be needing to recharge
their own reservoirs, those brown or blue pools
in which on occasion you may have glimpsed yourself,
smaller than life.

Poem for Display in a Veterans’ Memorial Park

This entry is part 4 of 14 in the series Public Poems


Veterans beware: remembering is a form of lying
at which politicians and war-mongers are especially adept.

Flag-burners beware: the U.S. Flag Code identifies fire
as the only proper & respectful way to dispose of a flag.

War memorial builders beware: pigeons are a kind of dove.
Whatever you do, they will have the last say, & it won’t be pretty.

Readers beware: all poets are traitors.
This poem was written from the prison of a bad conscience.

Poem for Display in a Public Library

This entry is part 5 of 14 in the series Public Poems


To enter fully into another’s words
is to leave your own fixed residence,
part coffin, part cocoon.
The walls fall away.
Letters the color of night
swell with sirens & the call
of the whip-poor-will.
Out in the open book,
anything can happen except sleep.
Dreams may be redeemed
for a small deposit.
This is why, in the public library,
everyone is homeless.

Poem for Display in a Hospital Waiting Room

This entry is part 6 of 14 in the series Public Poems


The doors swing
both ways; be careful.
From either side,
the other looks like out.
This mystery your body
is like a Klein bottle,
all surface, no way in.
From the inevitably
flawed models, it appears
to intersect itself:
it dwells within the without.
That’s why the wind —
or is it breath? — can’t
be held, & you need
a fourth dimension
to lose those edges
called sickness,
to become whole.

Poem for Display in a Municipal Building

This entry is part 7 of 14 in the series Public Poems


Abandon hype, ye who enter
these sound-proofed rooms:
you can fight City Hall all you want, really,
provided that your words
are bland as water & promise
Open bribes will not be tolerated.
The voters expect transparency
& paper trails, sometimes even
the anodyne of a Town Hall meeting
where one by one they can stand
& state their names for
the record, that stagnant pool
that reflects everything
but their weariness, their anger,
the way their hands rise
like saprophytic flowers toward the sun,
their touching gratitude at finally
being recognized to speak.

Poem for Display in an Abandoned Factory

This entry is part 8 of 14 in the series Public Poems


Why is there no battlefield memorial
here, where generations of workers
ground down their lives?
Why no place for the veterans to return,
pride mingling with grief,
clutching made-in-China flags
& mumbling about sacrifice?
Why doesn’t the county historical society
raise money to preserve this site just as it was,
before the pink slips came—
a mass unmanning—
& the great steel taskmasters were unbolted
from the shop floor & sold for scrap?
Why doesn’t anyone except us trespassers,
sneaking in like the weeds & sparrows,
want to remember which parts
were assembled here
& where they fit?

Poem for Display in an Inaccessible Location

This entry is part 9 of 14 in the series Public Poems


Second-hand poetry has
been linked to
the cancer
of unanswerable
questions. Even
if it’s safely
out of mind,
like a dessicated seed
or a leaf in darkness,
mouths with
no memory
can still turn
the blanks where
letters were
into seditious
little Os. So
thank you for
not reading.

Poem for Display at a Police Checkpoint

This entry is part 10 of 14 in the series Public Poems


Playmobil Police Checkpoint

Sometimes, you need a bridge
where there is no river.
The ground falls away
& you need that pique experience —
looking down on everything
without ever having climbed,
sky & water wearing the calm
blue uniform of authority.
Held up by high-strung cables,
speeding through our lives,
we could all use a pause
to adjust our perspective,
get in touch with who
we really are & what
brings us here, dry-
mouthed or sweaty,
death as close
as a sudden, wild leap.