City Exegesis

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3 A.M. turns cities into earlier centuries.

The streets turn into lanes. Streetlights into lanterns. Faces become countenances. The sky shows up gloomy.

It’s 3 A.M. in Lower Manhattan. The arsonist strolls into the frame wearing tennis shoes, a hoodie, cargo shorts, and a little kid’s backpack. His casual countenance reveals his gross misunderstanding of the facts. Sure, 3 A.M. lends itself to dreamy yearnings. But he shouldn’t downplay reverie. A serious enterprise: The songs we believe in after midnight are synonymous with the year I spent trapped in an apartment among living and dead mice, didn’t bathe once, and arrived two hours early to a party (that I was barely invited to) with cuts all over my face from the disposable razor. But don’t ever forget this either: Years later, in the dining car of the Coast Starlight, I took the porter’s advice and leaned out the door of the moving train to celebrate the blue and orange wind.

The arsonist crosses mid-block, carrying a Bic lighter, looking like he needs a shower, and believing in the Old Testament’s politics of fire. The footage catches him in the act. He walks toward the outdoor dining canopy in front of Prince St. Pizza, holds the lighter to it, flips back his biblical hair, and then strolls away as a bush of flames grins for the camera. The incriminating video startled the city and helped the police tie him to at least one other felony arson two blocks away where another outdoor dining tent had been burned down.

It turns out, this arsonist was none other than Food & Wine’s recent Sommelier of the Year. Once the wine director at Eleven Madison Park, the best restaurant in the world, according to the New York Times. And currently, at 35, the managing partner at La Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels, his own successful Soho bar. You’d think curating cups of wine would make him an ally to the city’s singers, belly-dancers, sorcerers, workers, jesters, shop owners, smooth-skinned lads, and spies. The outdoor dining tents that have replaced parking spaces worldwide are theirs. Restaurants at night that turn into parks during the day; that turn into vaccine clinics, pop-up clothing shops. Dining cars on trains.

The sommelier’s crime insinuates more than arson. I’d charge him with ignoring this century’s yearnings. I want to sit him down and tell him: The city is not against you. The night is for you. For you, who doesn’t want to know. For you, who doesn’t even know what’s happening. For you, who wants to know, but is too shy to ask. Drink your four cups of wine, children. From here on out, the Old Testament doesn’t have to be the sole domain of pyromaniacs. 

Josh Feit’s poetry has been published in Spillway, Vallum, Change Seven, the Halcyone Literary Review, and High Shelf among other journals. He was a finalist for the 2021 Wolfson Chapbook Poetry Prize and the 2019 Lily Poetry Prize. He was shortlisted for the 2020 Vallum Award for Poetry and won Honorable Mention. His first chapbook, “The Night of Electric Bikes,” is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. He is the speechwriter for Seattle’s regional transit agency.

NOVUS Literary and
Arts Journal
Lebanon, TN