Dawn in New York has
four columns of mire
and a hurricane of black pigeons
splashing in the putrid waters.
Dawn in New York groans
on enormous fire escapes
searching between the angles
for spikenards of drafted anguish.
Dawn arrives and no one receives it in his mouth
because morning and hope are impossible there:
sometimes the furious swarming coins
penetrate like drills and devour abandoned children.
Those who go out early know in their bones
there will be no paradise or loves that bloom and die:
they know they will be mired in numbers and laws,
in mindless games, in fruitless labors.
The light is buried under chains and noises
in the impudent challenge of rootless science.
And crowds stagger sleeplessly through the boroughs
as if they had just escaped a shipwreck of blood.
Lorca lived from 1898 until his execution in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War. He was a Spanish poet and playwright, a member of the Generation of ’27– a group of poets in Spanish Literary circles during the 1920s who were interested in avant-garde forms of art, particularly moving between between Spanish folklore, classical literary tradition, and modern movements such as Cubism, Futurism, and Surrealism. In 1929, Lorca left Spain and bypassed Paris to sail to New York, where he spent nine months studying English at Columbia and writing poems that marked a departure in his poems and his relationship to society as an artist.
His collection “Poet in New York” is a fervent protest against racism, consumption, technology, and industrialization. His subject is alienated from the modern city, imprisoned in its mechanization, and unable to flourish as an emotional, meaning-making, and relational individual. Lorca suffered from a profound culture shock and witnessed the stock market crash while simultaneously experiencing a personal collapse. He spent much of his time in Harlem, where he found a comforting familiarity between Spain’s “deep songs” and African American spirituals. Though they never met, Langston Hughes was an appreciator of Lorca’s poetry, perhaps because Lora too experienced New York as an outsider– a writer of countryside ballads concerned with themes of religion, isolation, nature, and a man with a complicated sexuality and private life, he was appalled at the capitalist, racist, and spiritual corruption he found in America. Lorca also had a poetic relationship with Pablo Neruda and together they are the two Hispanic poets with the widest influence across the English and Spanish-speaking Americas. Lorca’s New York poems give an awakening transnational perspective of America’s “greatest” city during the time of its Great Depression, condemning the forces of capitalism even as his own country was being torn apart by fascism.