Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Down Wall, from girder into street noon leaks,
A rip-tooth of the sky's acetylene;
- The day is slowly passing by as the sun "steps" over the bridge from east to west.
- Now it's noon.
- The noon light "leaks" onto Wall Street. It passes through the "girders" – heavy metal beams of buildings – to the street.
- Line 22 is really obscure, but it's totally fine if you don't understand it. Just say it out loud and hear how awesome it sounds.
- One take on line 22 is that the gaps between the tall buildings where the light pours down looks like a tooth that's been ripped out.
- The buildings are like teeth, with one missing in the small open space.
- The brilliant light from the skies fills that space like an "acetylene" lamp.
- "Acetylene" is a gas that was used in street lights way back in the day. Its light is especially bright.
- Another take is that the "sky's acetylene" is like a tooth of light biting into the city like a "rip-tide."
All afternoon the cloud-flown derricks turn . . .
Thy cables breathe the North Atlantic still.
- The speaker moves his gaze back to the harbor, where "derricks" – a tall metal structure used for lifting things – are turning.
- Derricks are often used to load and unload ships. You might have heard of "oil derricks" used to lift oil out of the ground.
- These derricks are so high that they seem to reach into the clouds.
- The time has moved from noon to afternoon. The day is passing by….
- The speaker addresses the bridge again: "thy" (your).
- The bridge's cables are like lungs that breathe in the salty air of the Atlantic. Or maybe they are like the strings of a musical instrument.
- In Greek poetry the breath of the wind was compared to a musician playing a harp.
- You can read the word "still" as a reference to time – the cables continue to breath the sea – or it could mean "quiet, calm," as in "the cables seem to make the sea calm."