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Renting Out an Entire City

Bookish Bostonian

Asst. Metro Editor

Published: Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 23:02

Unlike our livelier cousin to the South, Boston can lay no claims to being the city that never sleeps.

Certainly, Boston sleeps, but that does not necessarily mean that you have to.

With the T closing down just past midnight even on weekends, it is easy to become frustrated. But I believe that there is a certain quality to this nightly quiescence that is significant.

If one ever has the privilege of walking around Boston after the daily machinery of the city quiets, I recommend that you do so slowly. Look around the place, and it is almost as if an entire city landscape was crafted for the solitary walker, as if the city had rented itself to the lonely.

Darcie Dennigan captures this feeling in her poem “Eleven Thousand and One,” which follows a narrator as she watches a group of girls in “this bar in Boston they were in.” She watches the undulations of their social interaction with college boys in the bar, who had just “come back to town.”

While Dennigan’s poem operates mostly through a juxtaposition of the girls in the bar to the martyrdom of Saint Ursula, the portion pertinent to this column arrives in the final two verses.

As the speaker’s night of viewing draws to a close, she notes that “the streetlights were turning the sidewalks / into islands.” To her vision, “everything looked like stars over a black sea.”

The imagery of Boston being broken up into islands of light allows one to exist on several planes. You have seen what it is like to look down at the ground while walking beneath streetlights, the way your shadow struggles to keep up only to disappear and run ahead. And though you may take this walk under the streetlights of Boston, when you look at the light and your shadow upon the ground, you can be anywhere—even the streets of your hometown, quiet suburban homes passing by outside your range of vision while a small voice in your head tells you to run the last leg of the journey to your home for fear of the inevitable evildoers lurking in the shadows. But you arrive home to see that there was nothing frightening in the first place, and you laugh at yourself.

But when you remove your eyes from the pavement, there is no mistaking where you are, swimming through the lights towering above you.

“Boston / had a curfew. Bright windows died early. After that, if you were still trying / to look in, you’d just see your reflection,” Dennigan writes.

That is what happens in Boston at night, one million versions of yourself reflected back at you as you make your way, your only company being your shadow and the army of selves reflected alongside you.

For some, it is possible to get lost in this vacuum. Even the speaker in Dennigan’s poem issues a final plea aloud to the night: “I need to make love to something.”

Even with the company of the buildings and streets around you, even though you know that there are thousands ending their days and falling asleep just within their apartment windows, it is easy to feel alone.

But one spends so much time sharing Boston with the hundreds of thousands that inhabit it that sometimes it is okay to walk it alone and lose yourself in the speckled darkness.

When you finally feel that you have been alone enough, take another second.

Turn back to the vastness and place your hand on a nearby building. You might walk by that building—or one just like it—a thousand times in your life, but you will almost never touch it, will only rarely ascertain that it is real.

All day, that building belongs to Boston, belongs to everyone.

In that moment, it belongs to you.

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