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The New Yorker

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Poems May 19, 2014 Issue

Rockland

By John Freeman

I saw it being built, flat as a Frisbee
in the bowl of those foothills, trees disappearing
month after month, replaced by smooth roads,
empty schools, pork-chop lots, and cul-de-sacs
spotted with unfinished houses, the noise walls curving
the roadway into one long cement smile.

We used to drive up there in our parents’
cars—past the starter castles—to the daisy-wheel
junctions with their stoplights sheathed in muslin
like some beheaded prisoner, the air
so high and tight and piney you could hear
construction hammering from miles away.

It was a ghost town but for that sound. We’d sit
in the unfinished high-school stadium, at the
lip of what would become the bleachers, the half-
built Cineplex in the distance like a prison, and listen
to nothing turning to something, waiting
for the sky to turn purple and the traffic to hush.

Then, curfew looming, we’d race back across
the newly edgeless city, our radios turned up
to drown our pounding hearts, tires screeching on
the silky arterials. We felt it would never end.
The empty sky, the city that didn’t matter.
We held our breaths when we clicked off
the headlamps and ran through stoplights.

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