The Time of the Missile by George Oppen

I remember a square of New York’s Hudson River glinting between warehouses.

Difficult to approach the water below the pier

Swirling, covered with oil the ship at the pier

A steel wall: tons in the water,

The hand for holding,
Legs for walking,
The eye sees! It floods in on us from here to Jersey tangled in the grey bright air!

Become the realm of nations.

My love, my love,
We are endangered
Totally at last. Look
Anywhere to the sight’s limit: space
Which is viviparous:

Place of the mind
And eye. Which can destroy us,
Re-arrange itself, assert
Its own stone chain reaction.

by George Oppen

Lipstick_by_oldenburgSculpture of Lipstick  by Claes Oldenburg


  1. Great poem. Does he mean that what we see is not to be counted on? It almost sounds like a Buddhist view of life, especially the part about space being viviparous. I haven’t seen that word viviparous since reading a book to my boys about mammals, many years ago!

  2. Hey, George Oppen — terrific choice. Not someone you see much nowadays; a massive chunk of my undergraduate thesis was about Oppen, esp. “Of Being Numerous.” But probably my favorite poem of his, especially now, is “Sara In Her Father’s Arms”: “Cell by cell the baby made herself, the cells / Made cells. That is to say / The baby is made largely of milk.”

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