A Story of the City

for the 2015 State of the City Address by Mayor Stephen K. Benjamin, 20 Jan 2015

In the story, there is a city, its streets
straight as a grid, and in the east, the hills,
in the west, a river. In the story,
someone prays to a god, though we don’t
know yet if it is a prayer of praise
or a prayer for healing—so much depends
on this—his back to us, or hers, shoulders
bent. We hear the murmur of it, the urgency.

In the story a man is packing up
a box of things at a desk, a woman is sitting
in a car outside the grocery as if
she can’t bring herself to go in, not yet.
Or is the man unpacking, setting a photo
of his family on the desk, claiming it?
And is the woman writing a message to someone—
her sister maybe, a friend? In the story,
a child is reading, sunlight coming through
the window. In the story, the trees are thicker,

and green. In the story, a child is reading,
yes, and his father watches, uncertain
about something. There is a mother, maybe
an aunt, an uncle, another father. These things
change each time we open the book, start
reading the story over. Sometimes a story
about trees, sometimes about a city
of light, the city beyond the windows of a dark
pub, now lucent and glimmering. Or sometimes
a story about a ghost, his clothes threaded
with fatigue and smoke, with burning—you smell him
as he enters the room, and you wonder
about that distant city he fled, soot-shod,
looking back in falling ash at the past.

Sometimes it’s a story about someone
singing. Or someone signing a form, or speaking
before a crowd, or shouting outside a building
that looks important, if only for the flag there,
or the columns, or the well-kept lawn.
By now it’s maybe your story, and the child
is your child, or you, or maybe we’re telling
the story together, as people do, sitting
at a table in a warm room, the meal
finished, the night dark, a candle lit,
an empty cup left out for a prophet,
an empty chair, maybe, for a dead friend,
a room filled with words, filled with voices,
the living and the dead, someone telling
a story about the people we are meant to be.