Mark Svenvold

Pedestrian Interval
August 9, 2014 Svenvold Mark

Pedestrian Interval


The trick in all of this is to build well–

I’m thinking of Siracusa with Ted and Patty,

taking pictures of a 9th century church built atop

Roman baths, our children wilting in the heat,

or the place we took refuge—into the Ear of Dionysious I,

the rock quarry where we let loose with a tri-chord,

our voices carrying to where the cruel king is said to have

listened to the screams of his prisoners,

or the Greek Teatro: carpenters banging away

with improvements (acoustics so fine

tuned you can hear them dickering over measurements

for a new staging of Sophocles). The place

predates Hannibal, the Han Dynasty,

Euclid, the calculation of the earth’s circumference,

the Rosetta Stone, Adam and Eve–

it resists erasure, i.e., there’s no rusting rebar.

If you want it to last, build it in stone.

There’s a lot to live up to in a place, in a poem.


Back from Sicily, down Radipole Road—Saturday,

a sunny disposition in the London sky,

the clouds of John Constable passing by,

I find a bank machine, a pound of coffee,

walk again into the sun, and, now quite turned around,

spend part of the morning getting to know Fulham’s

(you have to admit) confusion of intersecting

diagonal streets, white row houses repeating

into the middle distance, except for places that got bombed,

in which case there’s something lastingly brutal

thrown up that you hadn’t noticed the first time,

or even the second or third time,

with groceries in a plastic sack–

for all the world like a man having just completed

a morning’s errand, and heading back.


Live long enough and everything’s emblematic—


except for the work of Damien Hirst, perhaps, or my

life-long preoccupation with sex. There’s an art

to the thoughts we might have had, Jean Paul Sartre!

I’m kidding about Hirst, though.

I walked into his retrospective thinking, This guy’s a charlatan,

but I left thinking, This guy’s a charlatan

­­and Wow, I love the cathedral butterflies.

I love the black disc of dead flies,

I don’t love the pharmaceutical cabinets,

I do love the pills and the cigarettes, and I do love

the formaldehyded shark and sawed-in-half calf, and the dove.

At the center something beautiful and brutal in all we love,

something Kali-like and fucked-up at the center—

something stupid and hateful at the center of all we love.

I’m with my nephew and son among the throngs at Turbine Hall

We stand on a bridge for a moment,

as below a flash mob of “pedestrians”

in a grid, without touching or bumping, emphatic

in three-second intervals, take their silent steps—


Live long enough and everything’s emblematic.

Mark Svenvold‘s article “The New Commute,” on real-time ride-sharing, is forthcoming in Orion Magazine ( in September. Five poems appeared recently in The Literary Review‘s “Artificial Intelligence” issue. His most recent book of poems, Empire Burlesquewon The Journal Prize and was published by Ohio State University Press. He lives in New York City and teaches at Seton Hall University.