[The first city]

Katie Moulton


     “To distinguish the other cities’ qualities, I must speak of a first city that
     remains implicit.” - Marco Polo to Kublai Khan, Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino


is dark red
mud, named for a saint
with vague ideas of
what it should be.
The first city has
a gash down its middle,
which it loves like a scar
that starts conversations
with attractive strangers
but is long stitched-up
and time-whitened
and no one asks anymore
what—oh, what—
can be done. 

The first city
has a north,
has a south.
The first city has
a glorious past.
Founded by explorers
pirates and missionaries
and before that
by mountain-
builders. The first city wishes it were

anywhere else.
The first city knows
of other cities, cities
on bigger water, on ocean,
and believes maybe there,
people feel better
about eternity.
The first city

came from the river
but fears it is
really only detritus
the river left in a hurry.
There must be a reason,
it says, to be shored up
on this good wet plain,
to have built
a wide gate
for the rest of the world
to pass through. The people

of the first city
are proud like sinners
with dammed-up memories
and a mother of a
to make good
by making way—
The first city is a flood

that leaves more
than it takes. The mold
choruses in the cracks.
The first city thickens,
river soil like blood
under a fingernail
coating the steps
that rise behind sandbags.
The first city dries,
bricks like blood
crust at the corner
of a mouth. The first

city won’t demolish
the old buildings,
soaked and seeping,
won’t put up new.
It lets the old
ones stand. It lets
the old ones stand
empty. The first city
is a river too, always
leaving, always left.
The first city confesses
to its glorious past
to its sins it can’t
remember, to one-time saints
who knew why they were.
It wants an ear pressed to the screen,
it wants a knuckle
in the haloed wound.