Bureau of Decline by Jessica Yuan

Your city still had the world in it
hosting the Snow and Ice Exposition
at the convention center all under one roof,
peeling glass off the harbor
from concrete and brownfield
unbuildable and damp,
slicing equal portions of shine
for the day boiling over.
Surface warmer than center.
Children standing waist deep
in the aftermath
like terrible rebels.
The smallest serving size
working through its own thing.
I was watching from the backseat
And you?
You’re wearing compression sweaters
for anxiety.
You’re a small city dog
raising a leg for the least tended planter
reflecting afternoon off the gridded curtain wall,
wringing limestone moisture
out from pores of stone,
deflated lung,
those boot-print Twinkies
the one-footed pigeons
peck into their own island,
looking for somewhere to rest
below the twenty-floor towers
with falcons on the roof
and injection wells
pumping rainwater
below the foundation
and not one inch has disappeared
I was watching
below the pillars,
between the highways heading north
above the sorting chute,
its cloud of dust,
its prolific arm
sluicing through the bakery aisle
to classify dandruff and manna
into graded mounds above their siblings
not yet spun into dollars or inclined,
cone-shaped and squatting.
Each yellow mound trailing its smoke
when the commuters depart
this time for peace
I was watching
after asphalt, after evacuation,
after the peninsula widens its aisle
with what’s buried not burned,
swallowing face to face
the spongy open blue.
Ploughing new brickings
for buyers of seconds and thirds.
Councils sprouting from the refuse,
retracting their claws into wavering bitumen heat,
reptilian smear on the surface
becoming platform
then garden then gold
and even the crumbliest squares have sold
And you?
You’re clutching your skirt
on the lowest curve of a staircase
to detach the wet bottoms of boilers
from the basement up to the floodline
just out of grasp.
Safety Man is watching from a hospital bed
in the storm,
two narrow eyes turning to the roof
where the helipad sits beside mechanical tubes
jetting exhalation.
Go down if it sways.
Go up if it soaks.
Use the stairs
this time for peace
My stakeholders?
heaving the gridlines over the wall
to cleave the river high and low,
to cool the mass with tubing
embedded in cement,
to draw water from behind itself
like a magician’s hat
performing pure quantity.
The city leans its chosen side, nails trimmed short
to stretch cellophane over the valley,
allotting flow and desert
to whoever begs
this time for peace
And you?
are wondering
why we plan to bridge the river
when to change its course
would produce a greater nation
and bring out the shovels again.
The city is hedging its bets,
ten thousand hybrids racing down the boulevard
to the seaside’s open bar
where they have made the waterline as it is,
only more,
though more is no prophecy,
no gradation for the landing,
no gangway rolled out
like a tongue retracting from bitter,
retracting each corner of skin
and not one inch has disappeared
Jessica Yuan is author of the chapbook Threshold Amnesia (2020), winner of the Yemassee Chapbook Contest. She has received fellowships from Kundiman and Miami Writer’s Institute, and her poems have appeared in jubilat, Boulevard, Ninth Letter, cream city review, The Journal, and elsewhere. She holds a Masters in Architecture from Harvard and currently lives in Boston.