Poetry Contest Winner, Second Prize, Fall Winter 2021

Scott Ruescher


I had to wonder, standing on a cement embankment
Of a dredged canal on a gray British day near Victoria Square,
That if this wasn’t what the city of his birth looked like before
It was bombed to smithereens by the Luftwaffe of the Nazis,
With shopping arcades, apartment towers, and pubs that serve
Fish and chips, vegan shepherd’s pie, and mushroom burgers
On the foundations of the ruins of the numerous mills,
Then how much uglier could Birmingham have been
When W.H. Auden, the founding former director
Of the Age of Anxiety—who sat, on the first of September,
In 1939, “uncertain and afraid,” in a dive on 52nd Street
In New York City, on the eve of the Second World War
Across the pond in Europe—was growing up here, the privileged
But conscientious son of some established professor
Of technology or other, and a public poet of no small significance
Who, not coincidentally, given the city’s industrial history,
Was socialist in response to the problems of modernity, including
The blatant exploitation of workers, the dominion
Of corporate bureaucracy, and the specter of mass poverty
That had haunted him since the collapse of the global economy,
Once “the rhetorician’s lie/Burst like a pipe” in him, as he said
It had in Rimbaud, the enfant terrible of the Symbolist
Late nineteenth century, in the only convincing comparison
Between plumbing and poetry that I have ever come across.