Oh, Virginia

“Even the horses, had they been blind, could have heard the hum of London in the distance; and the drivers, dozing, yet saw through half shut eyes the fiery gauze of the eternally burning city.” – Virginia Woolf, The Years

Oh, Virginia,
It is your city and in it I’m spinning
Like smoke or breath or air in cold—
Hot things that burst in wet wind or cold water. Take me into your hands
And squeeze me like fireplace bellows as I breathe,
Like a poet. Like a drunk.

Like you, I’ll grab the city with two hands and chew it until I’m drunk—
Feed me, Virginia:
You know what it’s like to see a city breathe
And you’ve touched the Serpentine and you’ve sent it spinning,
Dirty water less dirty back then. Even up to your hands
I’m sure you never felt the cold

Or if you did feel the cold
You stayed in the cold, numbing until you were drunk,
Feeling the magic in your hands
Until you couldn’t, Virginia.
Behind your eyes a world was spinning
And all you could do was breathe.

And all I can do is breathe.
With gritted teeth I was fighting the cold,
But when I followed those spinning
Streets through London, lost in the pavement, drunk,
I’m sure I found where you lived, Virginia.
It was dirty and it was flat up to the street and I touched the gray wall with my hands

And your industrial soot, covering my hands,
Made me feel like I could find a way to breathe
The way that you breathed, Virginia.
Your home and the day were cold
But between the two, I’m sure they could turn someone like you into a drunk.
A city street so tall so white so wonderfully morbid, it sent my mind spinning.

And, spinning,
My mind dug its hands
Into the explosive world you made of England, drunk
And filled with cavalry officers and parlor games and old boys’ songs that you learned to breathe
And learned to exhale with absolute exhilaration—warm air pushed out from cold—
Why did you ever let yourself stop breathing, Virginia? How could you?

From spinning claustrophobia you took everything and made it breathe.
You took in your tender hands a city in all its dirt and all its cold.
You fed it, filled it, until it was drunk and warm. You made it speak, Virginia.


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