David Craig Austin
A Perfectible Curse
for Robin Nemlich
All night, the sirens interrupt those lovers sleeping
peacefully or not, the consequence
of choosing life in this city, country, year—
gothic and spectacular as flame.
The end of January. The longest night returns
with each new change in temperature.
We huddle afternoons in cafes and bus shelters,
waiting for the weather’s passage,
the expected miracle we might or might not deserve—
or less, for the leather of our shoes to dry.
All over town, the buildings rise
the way we learn to sleep, sometimes badly
and with regrets. The cranes lean from rooftops
like hands curled to hold the sky. Tonight,
fire burned through a warehouse near the river,
mailing smoke and ash to other tenements.
For hours, you could see the distant neighbors
on their roofs, stamping out the cinders
falling around them like confetti.
David Craig Austin (1961–1991) published poems in The Yale Review and Poetry East, among other journals. His work also appeared in Poets for Life: Seventy-Six Poets Respond to AIDS (Persea, 1989), edited by Michael Klein. A segment of his poetry library was donated to Poets House in New York City at the time of his death, and in his honor Columbia University bestows the annual David Craig Austin Prize for “the most distinguished thesis in poetry.” He completed one manuscript, The Merciful Country, which remains unpublished.
This poem appeared in Persistent Voices: Poetry by Writers Lost to AIDS (Alyson Books, 2010), edited by David Groff and Philip Clark, and is reprinted by kind permission of Barbara Austin Pieniadz.