Knopf Poem-a-Day: April 15, Donald Justice’s “Manhattan Dawn (1945)”


We often think of Donald Justice (1925-2004) as a poet of Midwestern vistas and of a particular slant of Floridian sunlight. But though the emotional life of his poems seems rooted for the most part in what he called the “little lost Bohemias of the suburbs,” he also gave us his timeless version of Manhattan.

Manhattan Dawn (1945)

There is a smoke of memory
That curls about these chimneys
And then uncurls; that lifts,
Diaphanous, from sleep

To lead us down some alleyway
Still vaguely riverward;
And so at length disperses
Into the wisps and tatters

That garland fire escapes.
—And we have found ourselves again
Watching, beside a misty platform,
The first trucks idling to unload

(New England’s frost still
Unstippling down their sides).
                                                Or turned
To catch blue truant eyes upon us

Through steam that rose up suddenly from a grate . . .
And the grin slid off across the storefronts.
Dawn always seemed to overtake us, though,

Down Hudson somewhere, or Horatio.
—And we have seen it bend
The long stripes of the awnings down
Toward gutters where discarded flowers

Lay washing in the night’s small rain—
Hints, glimmerings of a world
Not ours.
              And office towers
Coast among lost stars.

Learn more about Donald Justice’s Collected Poems and browse other titles by Donald Justice.

Excerpt from COLLECTED POEMS © 2004 by Donald Justice. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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