No Context

No Context


At 5:00 a.m., under the red line platform in Ambler Heights,

you can’t see the river, sunrise breaking across the water, sunshine

warming the sandstone of the Hope Memorial Bridge.

Unseen from here are its sandstone carvings, those

Art Deco guardians of promise, progress, and industry.

There is a man on the street who looks

as if his will has been ransomed.

A deposed king in demolition boots,

his coat resembling a mastodon hide.

Ice age, king dethroned, yet another mammal

on the verge of extinction.


Here, at 5:00 a.m., under the platform of the red line,

it feels as though nothing is possible.

Here, no one ever called brushing your teeth, flopping

on a mattress post-third shift, a prelude to a beautiful dream.

I’m so goddamned god-damned and defeated

I can’t believe no one has asked me to marry them.

In Ambler nobody is made in the image of god.


Good morning, people of the platform, lost

on your way to- or from work in clouds

of your own making, pot smoke, frozen breath,

your own private microclimate.

Good morning beatboxers, and to everyone:

sellers of loose cigarettes, of aluminum and copper

wire, and to those leaning on windows, still asleep,

and those propped up in the bus stop shelter.


“False friends,” my high school teacher called them:

vague and wave, gift and poison, pain and pain,

two words, imposters, one posing as another.

False friends, true enemies, all the same.

Close and close, tear and tear, wound and wound,

these they call heteronyms. Impossible

to say without context, like how it’s

cold and dark at 5:00 a.m., and hard to say

why I’m standing here in the absence of context,

living my life without reference.


I recently learned about contranyms, words like dust, fix, apology.

Dust can mean to both add and remove particles:

Clouds dust the street with snow; 

wind dusts the snow away.

Murder in the first degree is the worst

but is the mildest when used to describe a burn.

The Hope Memorial Bridge does not, as the name implies,

memorialize the loss of hope, that naïve and childish longing,

nor was it named to instill it.

Hope refers the father of the famous entertainer,

a man lesser known for his stonemasonry.

When I say, “I’m finished,” how I wish I meant

that I’ve completed or accomplished something.

But when I say it now, “I’m finished,”

it means I’m completely done for.


What are you looking for?