“Traffic Jam,” oil on canvas, by Bob Dornberg, 2009.

by David Tucker

No one understands the traffic jams in this city,
how they just spring from the ground like this
and why, when you reach the head of the line, there is
no accident, no cause or reason for them, where
are the work crews? where are the car wrecks?
where’s the fallen tree? What—who—do we blame it on?

I’ve been idling here for what feels like hours
trying to remember it, a song on the tip of my tongue,
it’s … it’s … I don’t know—it’s not Blue Suede Shoes
it’s not sung by Bo Diddley, not by Elvis,
or Mississippi John Hurt. Could be Chuck Berry.

A theory: these ramshackle streets were laid out
on a metaphysical whim: “Let’s make some streets here,”
the mayor said one day, “and not worry about how
they all connect—they could all
go one way in the same direction—what do we care?”
And the town council said “Yeah, we can do that
let’s make a lot of streets
put them anywhere we want. And not worry about it.”

And this is why I can’t get to the newspaper
this is why I’m still at the end of the line
going through all the rock and roll legends—
but how did Johnny Rivers get in here?
Get out, you!

At a speed to make snails laugh
my car crawls past the weary night courts
as they open and the defendants arrive
all incredibly innocent but
the cell doors waiting wide open just in case.

And up on MLK hill, drug dealers are humming,
business is steady, new deaths
are on the way. Someone fetch the black gurneys
and those Ziploc bags—they may be needed.

Moody city, bless you for refusing
to be just any predictable old city,
sometimes you are even pretty at night if I look
in selected directions, turn my hand
into a camera lens and pan around until
I find an isolated piece of shining metropolis.
Oh, Newark, Oh Brick City,
Honey, is that you?

omega man

David Tucker’s book Late for Work won the 2005 Bakeless Prize. Days When Nothing Happens won the Slapering Hol Press chapbook competition. He was awarded a Witter Bynner Fellowship by the Library of Congress. A career journalist, he has supervised and edited two Pulitzer Prize winners for The Star-Ledger newspaper.