Tanya Paperny

No Longer Disastrous

This wins everything:
Two curious faux-medieval towers,
a 33-acre park,
and a breeze blowing in from the Virginia Piedmonts.

This wins everything:
a sandstone castle,
the highest natural elevation in the city,
and the night sky from 429 feet above sea level.

This field saw the District’s only Civil War skirmishes:
22 field guns,
a contingent of 3,000 men,
and Lincoln himself watching from nearby.

But the capital city was never breached,
clouds of dust breathed a sigh of relief,
the site later graded down,
grounds dismantled and abandoned.

Now, 151 years later,
at midnight on a clear May day,
these earthworks are again made fertile,
by a more forward outpost of my touch,
the western slope of your clavicle exposed to early advances.

Tonight, this fort sees a telegraph not between towers
but queer bodies on a steep hill
willingly playing with the risk of being seen
by nighttime teenagers,
spies detecting enemy movement.

We’re both wholly adolescent and wholly grown,
ignoring the century-old arsenic in the soil
to play war games with our lips.

The sky a giddiness,
a division,
a perimeter defeated.

Still, unsure of the strength of our position,
we do the long march back eastward,
battle hardened
and battle softened.

We defect to a neighborhood once known as Little Beirut,
where an appealing city view,
originally rather small,
now engorges,
our strategic importance enlarged and strengthened.

But will this eleventh-hour addition suffice?
What started in earnest
is now a clear line of sight,
a continuity.
Or so we hope.


Note: This is a found poem combining computer search results on the subjects of public sex and historic sites in Washington, DC.


Tanya Paperny is a writer, editor, and literary translator living in DC. The child of Soviet Jewish refugees, her poetry and nonfiction deal with the aftermath of atrocity. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Washington Post, Washington City Paper, The Literary Review, Vice, and Pacific Standard.