How to Pull a Building Down

Peter Spagnuolo

Do nothing, and it’s demolition in slow-mo –
roof-drains clog, pitches sag, standing water
collects trapping blown dirt off sun-parched ball-fields,
silting the pond’s edge to shape a pocket-bog,
like you find in remotest alpine meadows
at summer’s end. Dark algae blushes fructify
in sunlight, mosquitoes range at dusk
where small birds dip a wing, the soupish mess
an incubator broth, puddling, condensing, until
the frost comes. Freezing makes water’s knife,
implacable, ice forces every fissure,
winter spreads the membrane open. Come spring,
dirt fills it in. Decades tick off: the ferment
of the marketplace froths up every block
but leaves the abandoned bath-house standing.

Summers, devotional, spritz unseen growth-agents,
be-sporing alluvium with life to catch more life,
thickening of small forms accreting, microscopic,
a bio-rake for in-gathered life-mass, birthing moulds,
moss and grasses, ragweed and ivies to capture earth
from sky, an incidental wilderness. Loam, that small
miracle, awaits exploitation by errant travelers,
maybe bat-winged seed pods of the weedy Ailanthus –
tree of heaven, stink tree, invader happy to root anywhere.

Saplings now swagger, implausibly, five storeys up,
an unkempt rooftop grove – a stairwell tree
reaches through skylight cage of diamond facets,
fingers in a sewer grate; leaders probe flashing
and tar paper, lacing the rotted sheathing and joists,
embracing every hold; insinuating tap-roots test
the structure, become its living ligature, witless
of how the aerial ground they plumb betrays them:
reasoning only to make more of themselves, shoots
seek underworlds, the drip drip somewhere below,
rain in the bathhouse corridors, life snaking
down slick stairs, going to ground, trying to pull
the whole thing down.

– the Municipal Baths on Baruch Street