Philadelphia Rooftop

Robert Fanning

                                                     — for Ross Gay

Warm summer night, the screech-call of a siren,

horns bleeding down an avenue, the skyline's far

diamonds glinting. I've long forgotten whose party

it was or why a couple dozen of us were up there

milling around under the blurred stars in pockets

of two or three, beer bottles clinking, glowing

baton-tips of cigarettes conducting a chorus

of laughter and chatter. Behind blurred yellow squares

in high-rise apartments across the alley, silhouettes

scrubbed dishes or snored in recliners behind shut blinds,

the facing building playing its nightly mosaic

of so many human shows not worth watching.

When, in one bright room directly across from us,

curtains spread wide, a naked couple lay down, embraced,

and began their night's slow dance. Over the now

made-one body of the crowd of us, an arcing wave

of giggles sparked and rippled like static on a black dress.

Someone tried shushing the rest, a few others clapped,

another near me wisecracked about making popcorn.

Across the rooftop, in our instant audience, an itchy

shimmer of 6th Grade sex-ed titters slowly stilled.

Witnesses to need, our once patchy wingspan closing,

we became a dark moth folding into reverence

in this one thrown light. A few blocks away, maybe

a man alone in his room watched the dying whir

of his ceiling fan, practiced saying the word cancer.

Maybe a few floors beneath his, a woman stared up through

the beam of TV light at a white-hemmed helix rising from

her smoke, its twirl stitched with flashes of the late news, sheets

of ice bigger than this city plunging from calving glaciers

into the sea's frothy bloom, the unfathomable blue

slaking its thirst. Maybe in the gone silent siren-light

down another street north of here, a mother screamed

over her second shot boy, his blood's widening halo flooding

the sidewalk cracks, a scarlet tsunami rolling toward the coast

of her dry lawn, a cop lowering his gun. Yet there we were,

sky-high, congregated, not wanting to look away for one second

from this clean blessing shared in a bright bed before us, this

undressed altar of sweat and breath and want. What can we do

but pray — however we still may — before this world's

flaring wick burns out, before we fuck it all away.

Good night, world. Good night, good, God-forsaken world.


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