From Fell Street Footnotes, Poems

Baltimore Inner Harbor


 from Fell Street Footnotes

 See, also, the essays under this title

Poems on the Early Days in Baltimore  


21 degrees when we stepped outside, dogs on leash.   

A soft light pastelled the horizon and the sky grew 

bright and clean-lined, the buildings took on 

their defining forms and blinked into their rising colors. 

The hunkered boats moved not a muscle,  

still as a painting while the city clicked awake,  

window by window, footstep by footstep,

the clattery delivery truck on a brick street,  

a dog-squabble, the beginnings of language. 


Late night a fisherman 

 the tone of water 

sits hunched on the walkway 

 that rims the harbor, 

his feet dangling. 

 If he has seen us

 with our eager dogs 

or senses our nearness, 

he doesn’t mark the moment 

by flinch or turn; 

he is the wharf and the water 

and the rising fog where

 he will disappear 

from our sight

 into memory or imagination.  


Oh, my sense of direction is poor, 

two rights making a wrong, 

and the doors on the row houses  

turn from walnut to faded green 

or maybe hopeful blue 

slapped on old wood, 

and the markets announce their tired

businesses in languages 

I sometimes understand  

and sometime not. 

The sun shines on these streets 

as on mine, puzzle pieces  

of living’s colors playing out.  

Ageless women and old men 

carry home their straining plastic bags. 

I know how those handles crease 

against the weight of milk 

and flour and jars of beans. 

When Siri sets me back on track, 

all the turns to my temporary home

seem mistaken. North seems East  

and West seems South; yet I trust 

the voice, and it delivers me.  

With the release of held breath,

I remember with a little yearning 

the bar in Paris many years ago 

where I interrupted the after-work ritual 

of a brace of men debating life’s wrongs

because I couldn’t find the ramp  

to the Périphérique 

that would steer me South.  

Two of them, bright-faced,  

with daughters likely near my age, 

came out to the sidewalk, 

thumbs on suspenders,  

and pointed and conferred 

and then one drew a map  

with a stub pencil, helped 

me figure out my rental car’s  

reverse, and sent me on my way.  

I am a wealth of images richer 

for their sheltering and care, 

they, richer for the flattery  

of my young smile, my hand in theirs.

Finders, keepers.


The large man, 

his great bald head

reflecting the sun,

sits on a chair 


on the sidewalk 

in front of a pub

and spreads around 

his ripe optimism

like butter. 

He smiles white teeth

and chuckles at my setter 

lunging at pigeons. 

We chat a moment,

her red coat, 

her fruitless game, 

my trouble reeling her in,

and off I go 

with a nod to him, 

his nod to me, 

with my treasure 

of light.

Saying Much About Learning Not to Say Too Much  --for Jeff Hardin

We slid along the rails of Amtrak

to visit our old friends.

Through a taxi’s filmy windows

I memorized the way 

from Union Station 

up Massachusetts Ave., 

Cathedral, New Mexico 

to Klingle St. NW. 

I was leaving breadcrumbs

along the labyrinth of changing views.

Our greetings: happy and brief,

because we’re just continuing

conversations begun and ongoing

no matter the distance of time.

A fine soup warms us 

in the kitchen they have made 

from the scraps of a ruined house, 

the whole place now

new and modern and full of hope. 

High and broad-reaching,

these rooms make nests

you can swing your arms in,

splashed with windows and color 

like the only right words 

for a poem: white space

shouting light. 

“Windows”: An exhibit at the National Gallery,

where Andrew Wyeth’s paintings 

reveal the stages of looking.

And beyond looking, how to gather the silence,

how to leave out for seeing more

than is there.

William C. Williams and Ezra Pound,

Marianne Moore. Black umbrellas,

a couple of chickens, real toads

in a garden. Keats, “That is all

ye need to know.”

Mary and Bob and their architect son

have crafted, in their house,

something spare from the nothing 

of clutter. Haiku, a window

on what can be.

This poem, I know, has too much 

shoving and pushing in it. 

I am off to clean house.

Open windows.

Air out.

Art should be as

generous as that.

Should quiet its tongue

and wait.