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You walk along. Something pulls you forward. A dog — a curiosity — vague purposefulness. Perhaps some lonelier rehabilitation of the flâneur saddened by this weight of constant observation.

An attempt to map yourself on paper. Place dots on canvas. City as blood. You live it — grow roots. You are staying. Plays you thoroughly but you defend it.

Even think in blocks. Not linearly,
but in a grid — radiating outward from point of origin.

You know this sidewalk. Pattern of the people. Its edges. The particular way it curves. How many steps it takes to get from corner to corner.

You walk along. Often look down — don't connect. This is your universe. This block, your axis. It pivots around you. You think in localness. You are alone in your body.









Around the block one's feeling of localness. Not leaving one's familiar environs. A feeling of ownership recognition of the landmarks. A dead mouse decaying in the same spot each day. A feeling of placing oneself in time in space — belief that one has always walked here and always will. As far as you can tell the eternity of this moment lies in ordinariness, equilibrium.









You are the usefulness of this hour
specificity of location
GPS to a soliloquy of urban denseness

buses screeching with air brakes to a halt
signs pasted onto streetlights about lost cats
woman that camps out in front of the 7-11

ideal of an all-night city — comforting as you
go street to street

you are the food bank — the illuminate
the accident
poem as










Block as castle
surrounded by moat

interior of the block
vs. exterior

above the block
            on ground level

ecology of a

outsider vs. insider


upscale blocks, blasé

what is forbidden

both a gated and open









  1. sense of belonging
  2. fragrances of evening
  3. fresh vomit on the sidewalk
  4. or fragrance of puke from the gingko trees in the fall
  5. homeless people's shit mixed with dog shit
  6. rat poison under the bushes
  7. rock salt and sand on the street before it snows
  8. drifter living in an old car outside the building maintenance office
  9. security people watching to either ignore or reprimand me for having my dog on the grass
  10. most likely mentally ill (not necessarily homeless) talking to themselves down the sidewalk
  11. smart phone people looking down almost walking into traffic
  12. old people movers picking up residents
  13. construction people removing asbestos
  14. gangs of young FIT students cackling on the lawn
  15. Empire State clashing colors — inspired new light curation —never goes off at midnight anymore
  16. ululating bands of dudes parading out of MSG down 8th avenue after hockey games
  17. bridge & tunnel people idling on side streets having drugs or drinking before clubs
  18. smashed glass of car windows alongside the curb like beautiful trays of precious gems









"The block" may not be the ultimate title of this project. It seems already in use — ironically, as the name of a reality show about some type of real estate competition between aspiring neighbors. The block coexists as both tribal possession and cold hard fact of urban property delineation. And whether we like it or not, we are forced to deal with the other humans who inhabit the block with us or who aspire to do so. Our fate, the value of our property is unavoidably linked to them. They affect us and we them.









The block certainly represents a transition point in urban development. The block is democratic there is no longer a central square from which all life flows or feeds into. Each block is equally weighted. What unites them are the main thoroughfares or arteries that cross them and the small capillaries or veins that feed off of those main ways perpendicularly. It is something of a celebration, through uniformity, of our connection. One feels this connection even where the grid begins to deteriorate as it does in the west village where 12th street and w. 4th street paradoxically cross each other at an angle.









11:57 p.m.
Lat: 40° 44' 52.0116"
Long: -73° 59' 49.074"

local power plant
an empty lot
bit of snow
already days ago
stray police cones
and the buzz of a Diesel engine winding down

pure half moon
and trees broken up by bricks


12:01 a.m.
Lat: 40° 44' 52.0116"
Long: -73° 59' 52.008"

walking down a civil alley
(imagining uncivil ones)
big dingy window covered by a fence
pass others perpendicularly

bicyclists with flashing lights
going towards it
the small windows
this talking to no one

temporary relocations
covered motorcycle


12:06 a.m.
Lat: 40° 44' 52.0116"
Long: -73° 59' 50.5386"

turning in now
(can't go in this entrance
must go around)

a voice at last

the legs
and windshield wipers

subway lightbox with an ad


12:12 a.m.
Lat: 40° 44' 46.0998"
Long: -73° 59' 52.5474"

intended to look elegant but resemble plastic

home for the rats

stray newspapers
free weekly's dailies
or circulars garbage strewn about them

old tree
looks semi-non-diseased


12:14 a.m.
Lat: 40° 44' 45.1644"
Long: -73° 59' 52.6266"

commercial van covered
with random stickers

a fire hydrant

lost scarf
dim electric lighting









6:37 a.m.
Lat: 40° 44' 56.634"
Long: -74° 0' 5.7594"


after all this is waking
a day light and dark
unavoidable pain of waiting
to no effect
simple oppositions / connections
rich source material
narrative history you want to know about
but can't quite reach

these gaps not yet fillable
language intimately connected to artifacts
photos you can interact with

as well as certain poems
whose attempts to translate into the work
this process
sometimes intentionally encounter their own limits

in the end its an homage
engaged with its own tenderness
to a degree via transmission of
not mere autobiographical data
but an ability to focus
on real things
a physical block also
block for block perceiving
in small ways
so many things
speed during flight
intention and figuration
this use and non-use

of something
suddenly leaving us
a slow fade
leaning into action 










Dan Machlin

DAN MACHLIN is currently completing THE BLOCK, which he begin during a recent Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Workspace Writing Residency. His previous books include Dear Body: (Ugly Duckling Presse), This Side Facing You (Heart Hammer) and In Rem (@ Press) and his poems have recently appeared in BOMB and Vanitas. He is a native New Yorker and Founder and Executive Editor of Futurepoem Books.


The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2015

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