poem about being a tourist in your own city

as one of the “women poets of willett street,” i featured at poets in the park last night. this 4- or 5-part series (saturdays in july) is one of my favorite local poetry events. and now, since i live on washington park, it’s a few steps from my door.

though i read other work, i focused my reading on poems set in downtown albany, including a couple new ones, like the one below. i wrote it after the boys and i decided to be tourists in our own city, and so we booked a tour with the albany aquaducks on the company’s final weekend of doing business locally. one of my goals was to have the boys see their downtown digs as part of a pretty cool place to be.

i took the picture above while on the tour. the mural is located on livingston avenue, and though it’s not included in the guide’s script (and didn’t make it into this poem), it represents all the city’s hidden treasures. for the poem, i chose to focus on two things: the river and some of the sites in my own neighborhood that were highlighted in the tour.

love poem for the albany aquaducks
(may they rest in peace)

take another look at downtown before it’s too late.
go so far as to carry a camera around your neck.
accompany the strangers who tour your neighborhood
on a homely hydra-terra vehicle bedecked with ducks.

quack at carpenters who fix windows on lark street.
say hello to people waiting at the bus shelter.
note row houses, outdoor cafes, ice cream shops.

hear how washington park fills in may with 100,000 tulips.
hear that this summer’s outdoor performance of “cabaret”
is said to be the best the playhouse has put on in years.

nod to moses whose bronze arms stretch wide
as he his smites the rock which erupts with water,
as all good fountains do, to quench our thirst.

lean in as the tour guide whispers about the apartment
where someone shot the gangster legs diamond dead.
when she asks who dunnit, cast your vote for his lover kiki.

and when she wonders aloud who has ridden the carousel
on the 4th floor of the new york state museum,
watch your boys’ hands shoot up: i have! i have!

when a beggar near the hudson river way underpass
gives your amphibious bus a thumbs up, wave.

cheer when you splash into the river. allow yourself

to be reminded about tidal waters and a 400-year-old port.
look west at a modest skyline that rises above
the banks, lets you sit in its lap while it tells stories
about how so many others found it before you learned to

call it home. once the morning’s cloud cover lifts

a wise captain invites children to steer the vessel.
they are good, navigate safely beneath the bridges’
concrete pilings and perigrine falcons’ nests.
graffiti here reads, no guts, no glory

and you know it as well as anyone.

2 thoughts on “poem about being a tourist in your own city

  1. Wonderful. I read this and kept seeing my own city and adopted home (Austin) where I\’ve found it\’s also good to remember to be a tourist in my hometown. It\’s nice to know others do that too. A great read and celebration of home.

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