The universe doesn’t care about a tower—
old Flatiron—sinking in a wilderness
of sand that wraps you like a boa. (An hour
was all it took for men to make this mess.)
Balancing on the knife edge of a dune,
we find ourselves transfixed by an edifice
that lists like a riddled barque. Late afternoon
sun warms your limestone skin. We reminisce,
peering into your chambers, each depicting
a chapter from the days of civilization,
reflections from your windowpanes inflicting
both grief and rapture. You, the incarnation
of all three-sided structures, have been waiting
for a little flock of pilgrims. Cool and calm
as cumuli—though dunes keep strangulating
your skeleton—you’re thrilled that we have come.
Your gargoyles leer and glower. Such hideous faces!
We answer them with ones far more abhorrent,
then scramble down a drift as it erases
all traces of your torso. In the torrent,
the cherubs on the roof, no longer smiling,
panic and leap into the blowing heaps,
drowning in them as they keep on piling
and piling up in a gale that never sleeps.
Winds, whipping your weathered pillars, wail like sirens.
The sand assaults your broad hypotenuse,
our coats, our hats, our eyes. The bleak environs
go postal—like a thousand fiends turned loose.
The leafy trees of Madison Square Park,
plays, cafés and jazz, the brownstone where
Teddy Roosevelt was born—now all are dark
beneath this desert. Crumbled. Beyond repair.
No bands of boys now gather to partake
in innocent up-skirting as the skirts
of ladies rise; no constables will shake
apart their fun, though the hurricane still hurts.
And, as the universe is torn asunder
and, as our dreams of triangles break in two
and, as your monumental head goes under,
Manhattan’s ghosts cry: “23 skiddoo!”
“The sand assaults your broad hypotenuse”: The Flatiron Building is a special kind of right triangle called a Pythagorean triple. (The sides of the Flatiron are 5, 12, and 13.)
“23 skiddoo”: On a very windy day at the narrow north corner of the Flatiron, pedestrians would clutch their hats and skirts against the wind. This corner was known as the windiest corner of the city, and in the era of the long skirt, standing on it was considered a good vantage point for a glimpse of a lady's ankle. Policemen would chase away such loungers from the 23rd Street corner, giving rise to the expression “23 skiddoo.”