DEAR NEW YORK CITY, LEARN GENTLE
By Leigh Phillips
The sky regrets itself. By sky, I mean me.
Don’t let yourself get lost
because you think someone’s going to find
you. The story goes: no one’s
going to find you. You’re going to be on the
highway sifting Mountain Dew
bottles full of trucker crank piss and trading
them to eye‑wild tweakers
for a ticket back to tender. You are what is
tender. By you, I mean me.
The song goes: Heart. Ribcage. Envelope.
Heart. Ribcage. Envelope.
(Today’s poem originally appeared in Thrush and appears here today with permission from the poet.)
Leigh Phillips is an Assistant Professor of English at Hostos Community College with the City University of New York. Her stories, memoirs, poems and criticism most recently appeared in Rhino, So to Speak: A Feminist Journal of Language and Art, and A Face to Meet the Faces: An Anthology of Contemporary Persona Poetry, edited by Stacey Lynn Brown and Oliver de la Paz. She is currently writing an epistolary novel in verse, generously funded by a grant from the City University of New York Research Foundation.
Editor’s Note: Firstly, I am a sucker for a killer end-line. It is done well rarely. But what is even rarer is a truly fantastic opening line. The kind of entry that embraces you. “Dear New York City, Learn Gentle” is that rare poem that offers us a fantastic first line. The first stanza goes on to take me exactly where I want to be taken. Beautiful. Lyric. Telling. Guiding me into the second stanza, where I am ready to fall into the poem’s soft downy or resonant emotion. But, no. Suddenly there is Mountain Dew and piss and—where am I? But a soft turn and I find I’ve got a “ticket back to tender;” I’m back in the heartbeat of the lyric. And then I’m sung a lullaby that blends into dreamscape: “Heart. Ribcage. Envelope. / Heart. Ribcage. Envelope.” Today’s poem is both finely-wrought and an unpredictable experience. In that way, it deftly mirrors the city it was written for.