The Strange Hours Travelers Keep

August Kleinzahler

copyright ©2003 by August Kleinzahler

The markets never rest
Always there are somewhere in agitation
Pork bellies, titanium, winter wheat
Electromagnetic ether peppered with photons
Treasure spewing from Unisys A-15 J mainframes
Across the firmament
Soundlessly among the thunderheads and passenger jets
As they make their nightlong journeys
Across the oceans and steppes

Nebulae, incandescent frog spawn of information
Trembling in the claw of Scorpio
Not an instant, then shooting away
Like an enormous cloud of starlings

Garbage scows move slowly down the estuary
The lights of the airport pulse in morning darkness
Food trucks, propane, tortured hearts
The reticent epistemologist parks
Gets out, checks the curb, reparks
Thunder of jets
Peristalsis of great capitals

How pretty in her tartan scarf
Her ruminative frown
Ambiguity and Reason
Locked in a slow, ferocious tango
Of if not, why not

Notes on the Poem

As the Griffin Poetry Prize judges' citation observes, August Kleinzahler's "The Strange Hours Travelers Keep is a masterful collection of work from a poet who inhabits the energies of urban life more fully than anyone currently writing." The poem from which this collection gets its title captures those energies in a fashion that is both fascinating and a bit unnerving. Kleinzahler explores in this and other poems in this collection that sleepless sense of dislocation, time shifting and "always on" that is part of the modern state of being. As he observes that "the markets never rest" and information is continuously broadcast by endlessly churning computers, Kleinzahler also notes the intersections of and tensions between the natural and manmade worlds. That constantly spewing information behaves not unlike "incandescent frog spawn", then like "an enormous cloud of starlings." Garbage scows on the river and the always awake airports add to the poem's ceaseless motion. That motion becomes an unending stream, as "food trucks, propane" and anxious human beings are all grist for the mill that is the peristalsis - essentially, the continual digestive process - of big cities. But one anxious human being - the reticent epistemologist - somehow pauses the city's flow of energy, or at least manages to find a way to pause within it. Whether her "ruminative frown" is produced by professionally pondering the nature of knowledge or by simply scrutinizing how well she has parked her car, she has resisted the sweep of those urban energies and wrestled them, on her own terms, into a "slow, ferocious tango."

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