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“The Canyon” and “At Recess

By Mark Belair

The Canyon

This row of old, soot-blackened buildings 

holds dark despite being directly 

struck by sun, each

Structure rising, unusually, to the same height, 

their cornices creating a single, 

striking skyline 

While each front presents a different face—

some stern, some welcoming, 

some unsure;

Fronts that reveal nothing about 

what may be going on 

inside, a refusal 

Reinforced by each building’s contradictory signs—

some clearly ancient, some perhaps still


Yet despite—or due to—

this ambiguity, 

we feel 

Compelled down the winding canyon 

these weathered warhorses 

cut; drawn 

To decode, as if urban geologists, the city’s 

ever-building, ever-borne, ever-broken 

dreams in stone.


At Recess

Church bell peals 

leap from a steeple 

and ring along with the cries 

of schoolyard children, the

peals and cries

soaring into 

the blue dome of the autumn sky 

then rounding it to return 

as one composition, as the sacred music 

of pagan joys.


The ivy glints green

beneath a sugarcoat of snow, green

bright as the eyes of a peeking-outdoor child

While the water towers

atop the apartment buildings

take snow sprinkles like ice cream cones,

The dizzy white confection 

falling, collecting, promising—once 

the park hills are buried in the expected two feet—

To offer every 

snow-day city child 

a sweet country ride.


Only kids run in boots, the clump

of hard rubber on the playground

Heralding their approach to school,

boots hefted like weights from home,

The children all cross-clomping then 

arriving in classrooms where they tug 

Off their burdens and become—



teacher thinking caps—

Their light-footed, bareheaded



The white brick school remains

dark, the early sun catching but

One corner top-floor window, no

students there yet, no teachers

Or even custodians, just

an empty classroom

Pierced, perhaps, by a sunbeam

creeping across the linoleum floor,

Edging over the wooden desks,

climbing up the chalkboard, the

Bare coat pegs, the posted artwork,

then finally

Hitting the high black-and-white clock marking

the hours before the noisy children arrive and

The hours they quietly, if restlessly, reside and

the hours after they depart for the day to resume

Play then succumb to dream-chocked sleep

while ever oblivious

To the clock’s quiet 

persistence, this most 

Sly, most challenging, most 

unforgiving of teachers.


Author of seven collections of poems, Mark Belair’s most recent books are two works of fiction: Stonehaven (Turning Point, 2020) and its sequel, Edgewood (Turning Point, 2022). He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize multiple times, as well as for a Best of the Net Award. Please visit


Poetry, The River

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