The City That Swallowed the Sea

by Ryan Teitman
Teitman. Litany for the City. The City That Swallowed the Sea
I want to forget the city that swallowed the sea, where the churches unbreak bread and send old men onto their hymnaled knees, where the streets sing like handbells and the night cracks like a broken bottle crushed under the heel of a priest taking confessions, where the newsmen huddle on a street corner under evening editions while the rain skins their stubbled chins and the creeping asphalt licks at the face of the shoreline still, sipping at the sea, sipping at the salt that steams up from the waves each sweaty night and blankets the shoreline in a tight knit of creamy silt, and I remember the prayers I said, with my knees cupped in sand, how I prayed to the saints for an intercession, how it came like a punch to the blood, wrapped its fingers around the throat of my blood, squeezed the ribs of my blood until I could feel the nicked edges of broken-blood ribs tickling my blood's tiny lungs, those neat, unfurled sails tacking up and down my veins, and I remember the saint of the city, our patron and the patron of bookkeepers, the patron against lead poisoning, the patron of shims and tambourines, the patron of hiccups and tin whistles, patron of pandemics and against pandemics, of ironworkers and against ironworkers, and I want to forget when I was five, and our teacher told us to draw a picture of ourselves, and I drew the skyline above the sea, said I was changing my name to "The City," and she leaned in close and said that I would never be the city that swallowed the sea, and my face turned warm, and her breath was the dry hush of the sea as it slides each day from the city, and we rope it and haul it back like a brindle calf with three legs tied, and we drink it a little each day, and the censusman knocks every morning to measure how much we drank, and I want to forget our duty to be the city that swallowed the sea, to be the saints of the city that swallowed the sea, and I want to forget those streets that ribboned and choked and split my bones, that sea that skipped down the avenues of my nerves and planted a kiss on the tiny bronze bell that hangs—unpolished—from the stem of my brain.