Poetry of the City in Summer

These past few months I have been on a hunt of poetry set in the city during the summer heat. I was searching for contemporary poetic voices that extolled the smells and sounds of the sun’s relentless heat waves pounding the city’s sidewalks and the sun absorbing our skin.

These excerpts from the six poems below will delight your summer senses before the sun goes down in a few months. There are romance scenarios set by the Hudson River and lots of beer on the fire escapes and city fireflies.

Summer Night, Riverside
by Sara Teasdale

In the wild soft summer darkness

How many and many a night we two together
Sat in the park and watched the Hudson
Wearing her lights like golden spangles
Glinting on black satin.

The frail white stars moved slowly over the sky.

And now, far off

In the fragrant darkness
The tree is tremulous again with bloom
For June comes back.

Soon the City
by Liam Rector

Soon the summer
Now the pleasant purgatory
Of spring is over,

Soon the choking
In the city

On the fire escapes
In a sleeveless T-shirt
Smoking a cigar

In tune with the tremor
Of the mindless yellow
Commercial traffic

Moving in the city,
Where no one really
Buys a car,

Or otherwise,
Where we will,

As Rilke said we would
Where we will
Wake, read, write

Long letters
And in the avenues
Wander restlessly

To and fro
On foot in
The humidity,

Where soon I’ll shower, dress,
Take the dog out for a piss,
And mail this.

Chinatown Diptych
by Jenny Xie

The face of Chinatown returns its color,
plucked from July’s industrial steamer.

…Four noodle shops on East Broadway release their belches collectively.
They breed in e a hankering for family life.

Hey, there’s no logic to melons and spring onions exchanging hands.
No rhythm to men’s briefs clothes-pinned to the fire escape.

Retirees beneath the Manhattan Bridge leak hearsay.

The woman in Apartment #18 on Bayard washes her feet in pot of boiled
water each evening before bedtime. But every handful of weeks she lapses.

I lean into the throat of summer.

Perched above these streets with whom I share verbs and adjectives.


Faces knotted, bangs softened with grease.
The East River pulls along a thread of sun.
While Sunday slides in. Again, in those plain trousers.

How the heat is driven off course.
How one can make out the clarified vowels of bridges.

Who’s keeping count of what’s given against what’s stolen?

There’s nothing I can’t trace back to my coarse immigrant blood.

Uncles tipple wine on the streets of Mott and Bayard.
Night shifts meet day shifts in passing.

Sweat seasons the body that labors.

And in each noodle shop, bowls dusted with salt.

Morningside Heights, July
by William Matthews

Haze…A clatter of jackhammers.
Granular light. A film of sweat for primer
and the heat for a coat of paint.
A man and a woman on a bench:
she tells him he must be psychic,
for how else could he sense, even before she knew,
that she’d need to call it off? A bicyclist
fumes by with a coach’s whistle clamped
hard between his teeth, shrilling like a teakettle
on the boil…
The sky blurs – there’s a storm coming
up or down. A lank cat slinks liquidly
around a corner. How familiar
it feels to feel strange, hollower
than a bassoon. A rill of chill air
in the leaves. A car alarm. Hail.

First Blues
by Saundra Rose Maley

That summer night
Was hot
Steaming like a crab
Luscious under the shell

Television gone bleary
In front of men
In undershirts drinking beer

Wives upstairs took showers
A glimpse of their backs
In hallway mirrors

I sat in the dark
On the back porch
Drinking in the night

And it tasted good
So good
Going down
And somebody like me

Blew night through an alto sax
Blew and blew
His cooling breath
His hot cool breath on me –

And I came alive
In the dark
Listening like a fool

40 Ounce
by Marcus Jackson

Summer has salted
our neighborhood to thirst;
tar that patches the wounds of roofs
heats to sluggish bubbles;
sun obligates
paint on car hoods to blotch.

Emphasized by the light
inside corner-store beer cooler,
your malt lusters.

Your cold gold down throat.

Foam-skinned as any cleansing.

Through an uncurtained pane,
a music video is visible;
women’s shimmer slurs
like jewelry worn on a passerby.

We drink you to the pale bottom,
we drink until night sinks
into skin like silk,
until graveyard cops
circle our block like a clock arm,
until blood slides
like alloy through veins,
until words hammer
from the anvil of the brain,
until America’s
continental wheel unbolts
and everybody can see
we gleam like greased bearings.