Goodnight New York Winner


by Camille Petersen

You’ve done it all—in the morning, walked by the pickle jar flowers and frozen litter. Waited for the subway, warming up with familiar strangers as eager as you are for a prized 1 train seat.

Sometime in the afternoon, you looked out a window and realized the horizon here is sedimentary, with roofs and bricks and peeling billboards. You acknowledged, quietly, 3 PM coffee chilling in your hand, that you will never get over the sunlight’s echoing orchestras.

Maybe you had to stay late at work. This city does that to us, its pacing the apex of an avalanche. Maybe you were one of the last ones there, fluorescent lights drying your eyes out and obscuring the warmer glows of the living organism you’ll step out into. If you had a good view of the street or neighborhood, maybe you felt like it was just you and the city. Typing, breath, traffic, subway rituals, walking, typing, breath.

Let’s say you took the bus home. Let’s say you waited for the M5, which inches up Sixth Avenue, past Bryant Park, curving eventually towards the Upper West Side Trader Joe’s and then further west, until Riverside Drive. And which then goes up, up, up, past the glorious buildings near Columbia University, the huge statues commemorating forgotten wars, Grant’s Tomb, Riverside Church, up up up until it’s just you and the Hudson.

The Hudson candlelit right after sunset, glowing like an explosive oil painting. The GW Bridge starting to feel like a neuron spreading itself out, blinking resolute answers to questions of space, time, our capacity to truly cross any river.

You take the bus up, up, up past the abandoned entertainment hall on 145th, past the mausoleum, past where you should get off to complete the circle of your day, up all the way—now on a different bus—to Fort Tyron. To Inwood. To the very highest tip of Manhattan where it becomes clear that whatever love you have for this spewing metropolis, it has grounds. It has grounds in the fact that this air is Midtown air, this silence Soho silence, this crackling the spark of the Village, this sense of impending art the fate of East Harlem, every atom the atom of Richmond Hill, Crown Heights, Far Rockaway with its impossible sea.

You walk home. You’ve ditched the podcasts for the day and turned to music. Though it’s cold you want to feel the sidewalk mark your soles, do your miles on the concrete that was poured out not for you but for someone. Maybe you’re later than you should be.

Doesn’t matter. Jazz is playing somewhere on your block as you turn off the lights. Frozen air spits through the holes in old brownstone bricks. The city will always be up later than you. It’ll always be up before you.

Goodnight is a weary thank you, a request for blessing. Goodnight is a love you to something as rhythmic and mysterious as the moon.