The Power of Traffic

by Tony Hoagland

If you want to live in the city,
you have to understand the beauty of heavy traffic.
You have to love the thunketa thunketa of trucks at 4 AM
bringing meat and flowers into the markets and stores.

You have to witness the cement mixer
at the intersection of Willoughby and Grant
locked in a confrontation with the garbage truck,

neither guy willing to back down, both of them together
making one compound of a man
who keeps telling himself to shut up.

If you want to live in the city,
you have to see the feeder roads and interstates
from high above, at night, rhinestoned and seething,
spread out like arms of an enormous nebula

or like an alien intelligence, gathering facts,
or like the branching nervous system of a centipede,
all tangled up like a mixed metaphor.

You have to understand that traffic has taken the place in our lives
of the wind and the moon;
you have to hear the hum of the parkway as surf
and the honking of horns in the morning
as a great migration of geese.

You have to lie in your bed at night with the window open
and listen to the music of the traffic:
the lonely howl of the ambulance siren
rushing towards the worst day in somebody’s life,

and then for a moment the silence that follows
like the blank space hung between one heartbeat and the next,
as the cables swing gently in the wind
and the light changes from green to red to green.

“The Power of Traffic” first appeared in Poet Lore.