Excerpt for The Bronx Trilogy by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

The Bronx Trilogy







Three books of poetry inspired by The Bronx





the shoe shine parlor poems et al second edition



concrete pastures of the beautiful bronx



from the banks of brook avenue





Zeugpress/Smashwords Edition





The three books of The Bronx Trilogy are presented here in one collection.


I chose to use the second edition of the shoe shine parlor poems et al as it includes a bibliography of previous publications and a preface which discusses the book and introduces the Trilogy.


This is a list of previous editions of the individual books:

Print Editions

the shoe shine parlor poems et al. Ghost Pony Press, 1984.

concrete pastures of the beautiful bronx. Zeugpress, 2008.

from the banks of brook avenue. Zeugpress, 2016.


Electronic Editions

the shoe shine parlor poems et al. Zeugpress: Smashwords Edition, 2014.

the shoe shine parlor poems et al: second edition. Zeugpress: Smashwords Edition, 2016.

concrete pastures of the beautiful bronx. Zeugpress: Smashwords Edition, 2014.

from the banks of brook avenue. Zeugpress: Smashwords Edition, 2015.



The poems in this collection are copyrighted and registered with the U.S. Copyright Office.


Please do not use them without first obtaining permission from the author


Contact information is available on the author’s website: http://www.wrrodriguez.com


If you visit the site, you can learn more about the author and listen to him read the poems.



© 1984, 2008, 2015, 2016 w r rodriguez


All rights reserved



ISBN: 9781370184521



Zeugpress/Smashwords Edition




Table of Contents

The Bronx Trilogy

The Bronx Trilogy Title Page

The Bronx Trilogy Copyright Page

The Shoe Shine Parlor Poems Et Al

The Shoe Shine Parlor Poems Et Al Title Page

The Shoe Shine Parlor Poems Et Al Copyright Page

The Shoe Shine Parlor Poems Et Al Table of Contents

Concrete Pastures of the Beautiful Bronx

Concrete Pastures of the Beautiful Bronx Title Page

Concrete Pastures of the Beautiful Bronx Copyright Page

Concrete Pastures of the Beautiful Bronx Table of Contents

From the Banks of Brook Avenue

From the Banks of Brook Avenue Title Page

From the Banks of Brook Avenue Copyright Page

From the Banks of Brook Avenue Table of Contents



the shoe shine parlor poems et al



second edition




w r rodriguez



SSPPEA Copyright Information & Acknowledgments



Grateful appreciation to the Mary Roberts Rinehart Foundation for supporting

the ccompletion of the original manuscript.


And thanks to Robert Stern for his friendship over the years.


The first print edition of the shoe shine parlor poems et al was published by Ghost Pony Press

in 1984.



dedicated to my parents and to my wife



Acknowledgments:


Poems from this book appeared in the following magazines and anthologies:


Abraxas, Bronx Accent: A Literary and Pictorial History of the Bronx; Collage of 9 & 1; The Croton Review; Editor’s Choice III: Fiction, Poetry & Art from the U.S. Small Press (1984-1990); Epoch; Fistflowers: Poems of Struggle and Revolution; I didn’t know there were Latinos in Wisconsin I; I didn’t know there were Latinos in Wisconsin II; and The U.S. Latino Review.




© 1984, 2016 w r rodriguez

All rights reserved





Smashwords Edition



SSPPEA Table of Contents


SSPPEA Title Page

SSPPEA Copyright Page

Preface to the Second Edition of the shoe shine parlor poems et al

I: the shoe shine parlor poems

making it

the cop

the shoe shine poem

al’s pictures of old times

grandfather

coffee

blinky

the banana man

little spic & big man

the bust

jim

the long walk to bed

private rivers

II: et al

the moon does not linger

Something Fishy

the miracle

the old woman

late one hot august

the day i threw thoreau off the roof

they disappear

of bootblacks

what i remember most about hughes avenue

the accordion player

butch

weeds

the bronx at the end of the mind

Bibliography: Previous Publications

Preface to the Second Edition of the shoe shine parlor poems et al



This book is dedicated to my parents and to my wife, and rightly so. My mother liked to talk, and passed on family stories, in elaborate detail, to me and to a variety of cousins. My father, whose family suffered through the Great Depression, and who worked his way up from office clerk to office manager, did nothing to stop me from avoiding a career in banking, or from foregoing engineering and declaring myself an English major. My wife does not define happiness and fulfillment in terms of money. If she did, she probably would not have married someone who wanted to write poetry.

Without assimilating my mother’s sense of detail, I do not know if I could write the way I do. Without my father’s tolerance of my youthful decisions, I might never have become a teacher of high school English, which allowed me to pay the bills while pursuing my interests in literature and writing. And my wife, going to poetry readings and reading revisions of my work, has been my best emotional support and editorial guide over many years.

I wrote the first poem, “making it,” in a Bronx laundromat. I was in college and living at home. Watching the family laundry spin around seems an appropriate context for the poem’s inspiration. When I moved to Wisconsin, I began writing “the cop,” “blinky,” “the bust,” and “jim.” Like most of my work, they are based on true stories, but I often change the names of the leading characters. I was influenced by the Beats and by the Romantics, and it occurred to me that The Bronx was a worthy subject for poetry.

Among the first in my family to attend college, I had moved from the tenements of  The Bronx to attend graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Having started my career as a bootblack, I was somehow fulfilling the Great American Dream. It seemed fitting to call my first book the shoe shine parlor poems et al.

The cover photograph, taken in about 1929, shows my aunt, my grandfather, three uncles (two biological, one adopted) and several customers. After the riots of the 1960’s, the glass windows were replaced with plexiglass portholes bolted into plywood. By the 1970’s, sneakers, sandals, and vinyl shoes made their impact, and the shoe shine parlor’s income declined.

My uncle recruited me into the family business when I was eleven. I began by washing the shoes. After several months I was entrusted with completing the entire shine. Shining shoes is often looked down on in America. But it is an honest job. One works hard, sees the results of his labor, and is paid and given a tip. I

was proud of being a bootblack. I built muscle, learned to interact with people, and used my savings to pay my share of college tuition. And I got to learn what was going on in the neighborhood without being directly involved.

So being a bootblack, and listening to my mother, and having a tolerant father, and an understanding wife (who also grew up in the South Bronx and who also was an English major) enabled me to write this book. I am indebted to these blessings, and also to Ingrid Swanberg, whose Ghost Pony Press published the first edition of the shoe shine parlor poems et al  in 1984.

Much has happened in the decades since the first appearance of this book. My parents have passed. My children have grown and moved on. The Bronx has been rebuilt. I retired from teaching, but three decades of producing a high school literary magazine taught me how to do layout and gave me some practice in editing. In 2008, I spent the summer learning how to use a new layout program. I did this by producing the sequel to the shoe shine parlor poems. I entitled it the concrete pastures of the beautiful bronx, and published it under my Zeugpress imprint. I decided then that I wanted to complete a trilogy of books about The Bronx and the urban experience. The third book, from the banks of brook avenue, is being released in 2016. My wife has been very gracious in reading and commenting on numerous revisions of the poems.

As the trilogy is completed, I am reprinting a limited number of copies of the shoe shine parlor poems et al. Though my work has evolved over the decades, I remain pleased with this book, and the text is the same as that of the first edition. I simply want to have enough copies to complement  the concrete pastures of the beautiful bronx and  from the banks of brook avenue  when I offer the bronx trilogy  to my readers.

I remain most grateful to Ingrid and to Ghost Pony Press and to all those who have supported and influenced my work over the years.

w r rodriguez

January, 2016

I

the shoe shine parlor poems

making it


great grandfather burned some government office

in some spanish town made it to puerto rico

hiding in jungles huts from wanted posters

& police must’ve hid pretty well because


somehow grandfather made it to new york

rolling cigars surviving the depression & me

putting dirt in his pipe sitting always

by the television watching yankee games

never cheering smiling sometimes

dying in a railway flat

on cypress avenue where he lived twenty years

in the south bronx


where my mother also lived forty years

met my father married sent him to wall street

each day dressed in the suit he wore

even on saturdays


while she stayed home

remembering to me her father the handsome

little italian who also made it to philadelphia

then to new york the south bronx sweeping speakeasies

founding the family business


the shoe shine parlor

i worked there seven years sweating

reading plato’s symposium tristram shandy

playboy magazines between shines

not speaking spanish or italian but laughing anyway

at the customers’ dirty jokes


never listening

even if they spoke english mind never there

body pushing brushes burning two-&-a-half-cent cigars

mind someplace else in riverdale la rive gauche

in bed with the playmate of the month

in that spanish town a hundred years ago

but always


someplace else

the cop


one week he was a movie star

dyed his hair blond quite unusual

for a puerto rican & he strolled

up & down 138th street smiled

gave autographs & occasionally

a 3×5 glossy


suddenly he was a cop the only one

i ever saw walk a beat in our neighborhood

138th & 137th brook avenue saint ann’s

even brown place in a regulation blue uniform

shoes shined night stick twirling a tin badge

& cap guns in a cowboy holster


every night he guarded the newsstand till it closed

got a free paper & walked the newsman home

saturday afternoons the children followed him

the men who sat on milk boxes playing dominoes

drinking beer talking about the cock fights

would yell hey officer & ask directions

to places they were not going

or tell him of cars double parked around the corner


but he was a nice cop gave accurate directions

did not give tickets

& when the streetlights went out he directed traffic


when the riots came in the summer of 67

or 68 probably both he was there

in the middle of 138th street with a riot helmet

& his dime store guns with five or six

hundred other cops who chased the crowds up the block

or were chased or who stood in doorways

watching the stores dodging bricks while he sat

on a friend’s car so it would not be overturned


once in a while someone would shout

rotten pig & throw bottles at him

but they were always aimed to land

ten or twenty feet away

& i never saw a cop smile

so much in a riot

the shoe shine poem


i tell ya man

i finished the shine

& as he got off the stand

i saw a gun in his belt


i started praying

as he reached for his wallet


then he gave me

a buck

& told me to keep the change

& i said to myself


my prayers are answered


i ain’t had a buck shine in a month

al’s pictures of old times


a boxer doing an l sullivan pose

three men in two piece bathing suits drinking beer

our shoe shine parlor back in the ’20s

when there were stands outside too

& uncle giaco was there

& grandpa

funny calling him grandpa

because i never met him


& i don’t remember giaco

except ma would tell me

how skippy howled every midnight

for six months after the car

killed him


he wasn’t really our uncle though

my grandparents took him in

when he was just off the boat

& he became a relative

worked in the parlor with al

opened up every morning at six

washed down the marble stand

& polished the brass footrests

six or seven days a week


went back to italy once

a month after his mother’s funeral

but mussolini wanted to draft him

he had been a runner for general pershing

& that was war enough for him

so he stayed on the ship

came back to brook avenue

& years later was run over by a car

crossing 138th street to buy us ice cream


& snapshots of faces i didn’t know

but al remembered

one or two of them gangsters

in the ’30s they would sit on the stand

& polish their guns

al said

while he shined their shoes


photos of cats & dogs & cousins

a drill sergeant & some cops

aunts & uncles

old christmasses & customers

all turning yellow

behind the dusty glass

grandfather


his father was an exporter

so it wasn’t as hard for him to leave italy

as it was for a lot of others & work

his way up the coast florida to phillie

bought land there with his brothers-in-law

had a barber shop & a store on main street too

but he left it all in a family argument

returned only for funerals & weddings

the old fashioned kind with buffets home pressed wine

virgin brides


he made it to new york with his wife

& the children they had on the boat & in various other states

then in manhattan my mother the ninth & last

not counting the two who died of pneumonia & tb

all living in a cold water flat by the polo grounds

then in the south bronx right around the corner

from the shoe shine parlor he bought

in the early ’20s


worked it with his sons

swept streets & speakeasies on the side

bartended after the repeal had as much fun

as anyone during the depression went fishing & crabbing

in pelham bay before it was polluted & sometimes

on sundays treated ma to a ride on the third avenue el

& once a year took the whole family for a picnic

sailing the dayliner to bear mountain


but mostly he worked

ten or twelve hours a day came home took a short nap

woke went for a walk returned with the paper

read it & made sure his daughters were home by nine


he never let his children curse & never

let anyone call him a son of a bitch

would say i’ve got a real mother & fight to prove it

only time he’d ever fight & he usually won

once he even got hit over the head with a barstool

but he proved he had a real mother anyway


two days later he collapsed behind the bar

his friends carried his corpse

home in a chair

coffee


a small man with a twisted body

five feet three

a size six shoe

& the other a four

so it wasn’t much trouble

to give him a free shine

while he spoke to al


not really talk

but al understood his

choked sounds & gestures

& understood almost everybody

no matter what language they spoke

or smiled & pretended to


we helped coffee on & off the stand

when he came around on saturday afternoons

or sunday mornings after church


he usually brought al coffee

sometimes smelled of whiskey


& was always happy

blinky


had a glass eye that didn’t fit well

but he was too poor to get another

so folks called him blinky the one eyed junkie

because he was a junkie & twitched a lot

trying to keep his eye from falling out


he wasn’t like the other junkies who weren’t like him

& who hung around wasted waiting to score

watching who to rob & mugging people

angel’s father’s head bloodied stabbed in the chest too

not because he fought back but because they wouldn’t take chances

or waste time asking & in a rush they pushed maria

who lived next door & was seventy six years old

down the stairs took her pocketbook the social security money

just enough to pay the rent & buy thirty dollars food each month

she spent ten weeks in the hospital with fractured ribs

& a broken hip so they could get their fix

but blinky wasn’t like them


maybe he didn’t have much of a habit to support

or maybe he dealt on the side

but he’d just hang around the supermarket

carry packages home for a quarter or half-a-buck

take odd jobs paint apartments

sweep sidewalks bring down the garbage for the super

in bad times he’d beg by the subway


one night blinky overdosed in some basement

folks said he didn’t move an eyelid

when the cops carried him to the ambulance


word got around he was dead

someone painted a cross on the sidewalk

put a bouquet of plastic flowers next to a hat

read the bible & took a collection for blinky’s funeral

he said & the old women walking home from the stores

dropped in dimes & quarters

some stopped to listen to the prayers


two weeks later blinky returned

he woke up in lincoln hospital stole some clothes & walked out

right past the cops & nurses back to 138th street hoping for a fix

when he saw the cross still painted on the sidewalk

& found out about our donations

he had some fine ideas on spending the money

so he & a few friends went looking for the man who took the collection


but no one could ever find him

the banana man


looked like jimmy durante

had a room on 139th street

worked for d loi & sons

trucking bananas all over new york


got a free shine every saturday

gave us a huge bag of bananas

talked a while about the flats & trots

then took the bus to belmont or the big a


worked all the overtime he could

saved his money

& spent his vacations at saratoga

little spic & big man


little spic

the name he was known by but a person

could only speak it with affection little spic

wasn’t shorter or taller or bigger & meaner

or cooler & mellower than anyone else

& he didn’t try to be


he just held his own

through tough times struck hard ran fast

when he had to now he was the old timer

of the block & drove the smoothest bus

in the bronx too old to turn from anything

he joked with the passengers


& no taxi

ever beat him in a fair race he knew enough

of the ways of the world to negotiate

translate or otherwise assist a friend in need

through any crisis from a wedding or a funeral

to football tickets & the recovery of stolen or confiscated property


he had many friends never sought enemies

earned his title in grammar school during the ’20s

when the irish & italian & german kids who ruled the streets back then

would rough him up & get him down until one day

he grabbed the biggest guy by the collar

shook his head a few times & said in a fierce voice yeah


i’m little spic so what of it that bunch

never troubled him again they became buddies

& stuck up for each other like brothers

they were as tough as they had to be to survive

& as lucky they lived according to the code of their pride

never crossed a friend never struck from behind


or without good reason they never took nothing

from those who had nothing & that was more than could be said

for the loan sharks local politicos & insurance agents

who sold bogus policies promises & quicksand loans

to depression families it’s a hard life

people are strange little spic thought

& no matter how many friends he might make

he knew that some folks would always if only

in a small but certain way think of him as just

a little spic so he figured he’d get the jump on them

any way he could no friend of his

ever used his christian name again


& during the depths

of the ’30s his drinking buddies passed him a good tip

about a rough job & they worked together until the war

driving trucks in the garment district which is where

they learned the old trick of carrying a lead pipe in a rolled up newspaper

to fight off hijackers


& thirty years later

when he walked home late that friday night from the bus route

he got in ’47 he had a foot long rod of bicycle frame

in an evening news to fend off muggers & so when big man

who was not so big he didn’t have to prove his muscle

& who was known to prefer the pleasure of assault & battery


to the profits of pure thievery staggered up to little spic

& grabbed his throat yelling you damn ricans

i’m gonna kill allaya & bury you in jersey little spic

afraid it might be the last thing he’d ever do

swung his newspaper with all his might & walked away with no hurry

leaving big man unconscious on the sidewalk


but he didn’t get too far when a police car drove up

& one of the cops yelled hey old man

what happened to that big guy over there

& little spic said with no hesitation

i don’t know he was walking around real drunk

& he just collapsed


& the other cop yelled to two young guys

who were sipping a pint in a doorway across the street

hey what happened to that big guy over there

& they answered with no hesitation

he was walking around real drunk said one

he just collapsed said the other


well that’s as good as any place to sleep it off

muttered the cop at the wheel as they drove away

& little spic walked home to the wife who always waited up for him

& the two guys kept sipping their pint until all was clear

then they crossed the deserted street & walked up

real quiet


to big man who was snoring drunk on the sidewalk

nose up jowls drooling sprawled beside some trash cans

& boxes & bags of garbage with a touch

light as a fly his wallet was lifted he never woke

so holding their noses they stole his shoes

& biting back laughter threw them beneath a car


big man snored on in his stupor so they slipped off his pants

threw them upon a nearby fire escape & split to spread the news

a hundred folks soon gathered let’s take a good look

at this strong mouthed giant who seems to have insulted one too many of us

for his own health someone said loudly in spanish & it was a sight

because big man wore no underwear that night


& it wasn’t long till the laughter woke him the crowd moved back

big man swayed to his feet & stretched a bit until he realized

he was standing surrounded in the street

so he reached to a pocket for his knife in case there was trouble

& jolted when he felt his bare skin

they’re on the fire escape yelled a little kid


big man ran to the fire escape as the crowd opened around him

he ain’t so big shrieked a woman from her window

& big man tried leaping to reach his pants he couldn’t jump too high

because of his hangover but he kept trying anyway

the crowd became hysterical big man went berserk

& tackled some guy around the waist yelling give me your pants


give me your pants give me your pants until three cops drove up

& grabbed him but he got one in a bear hug still yelling

give me your pants give me your pants as more cops dragged him away


& even after he jumped bail he was never seen in these parts again

though his name was remembered in stories & drunken ballads

which in our neighborhood always ended with the moral


you don’t mess around with little spic

the bust


i knew bo & bub the two detectives who busted frank

they came in for a shine drunk every friday night

never tipped & seldom paid us not like the other cops

not like the pimps & bookies who’d give bills

& say keep the change


once bub told georgey as he sat next to him on our stand

that they almost caught him stealing that mustang last night

& would get him the next bust his ass too

but georgey laughed & said they wouldn’t


& i sure wish i’d pounded the brush into a corn or bunion

because frank never did nothing

except box in the golden gloves train all day

walk his dog at night & look a little

like georgey the rat king who was doing lots of things


but it was frank they arrested tackled him crossing 138th street

cuffed him & drove him down by the river

to the alley beside the furniture warehouse

where they beat him with blackjacks held guns to his head & said

they’d shoot him & throw him in the harlem river


then they kicked frank & beat him with their pistols

until two patrol cars drove up to arrest them

but bo & bub identified themselves so they all brought frank

to be booked with grand larceny petty theft resisting arrest

& several counts of assault & battery upon officers of the peace


the dog came home alone & frank’s mother was worried

but a few neighbors ran in yelling frank’s just been busted

so they rushed to the police station

& sat there three hours before frank arrived

& even then the desk sergeant wouldn’t let his mother see him

or send for a doctor until some friends

got a manhattan lawyer to take the case free of charge


now bo & bub shine their own shoes they’re doing two to five

frank’s walking a little dizzy he can’t fight no more

& georgey the rat king is still doing lots of things

jim


i was thirteen there wasn’t much to do on those sticky august nights

except listen to the yanks drop two to the twins

look out the window maybe see a star or two

& catch the latest on the all night outdoor poker game

when suddenly thirty or forty guys turned the corner

from saint ann’s avenue came right down 138th street

ripping off car aerials slashing tires

throwing bottles at a stray dog


the gamblers grabbed their beer & abandoned their milk boxes

as the gang hurled trash cans through store windows

set woolworth’s on fire carried off a few televisions

& strolled away laughing into the night


ten minutes later the cops & firemen arrived

people looked from their windows to see what had happened

& our super old jim was sweeping the gutter

when a cop walked up & bashed his head with a night stick


maybe he thought old jim was one of the gang

& couldn’t run fast enough to escape

or maybe he thought old jim pulled off the whole riot by himself

but i don’t know because no one ever saw that cop again

& jim wasn’t arrested just taken to the hospital

& let out two weeks later with a bandaged head & a broken nose

& went right back to work sweeping hallways & collecting the garbage


folks would see him & ask how you doing jim

& tell him he should go to the civil liberties union

find out who that cop was & sue him sue the city too

but i knew jim wouldn’t


& he didn’t

he was an old black gentleman grew up in virginia

when i was a boy we couldn’t walk on the sidewalk

if white folks was walking on it had to walk in the gutter

he told me one day while i shined his shoes


& now he just said i can’t sue that cop

it wouldn’t help my head none

besides that cop is the law

i was brought up to obey the law

& i’m too old to change

the long walk to bed



my footsteps echo down empty streets. the moon is full, but the stores are hidden behind steel roll down gates, & the shoe shine parlor is boarded over with plywood. the trash cans are in their usual places, & patches of black ice are unmoved by the wind. it does not snow much anymore, but the night is very damp, & cold. in my building, rusted icicles hang from the hallway radiator. they are a month old & still growing. i dream of nothing, shivering in my sleep, cold as a parking meter.

private rivers


private rivers

is dead he stepped

on a mine on the wrong road

in a mistaken land in an old war his young

dogtagged blood exploded & dried brown upon green

backed leaves that rotted in the chemical breeze


private rivers is dead he wound up

on the wrong road the gossip goes

because the illiterate corporal could not read the map

to the literate lieutenant who could not read maps

& was actually an actuary & the old sergeant

had retired yesterday & the new sergeant had not yet been delivered


& the platoon radio was not working

so the lieutenant who never took advice from noncoms

could not consult the captain who had chronic gout & never left the base

& the major was on leave & the general

at the peace talks did not hear the explosion

but signed the letter anyway


the wake was a closed coffin flag & flowers

affair fat priests babies bawling to be fed

nervous brothers pale sisters some pfc’s

a corporal in a wheelchair the grandmother

prayed & cried & shrieked her grief

& the widow fainted at the cemetery


private rivers is dead the news spread

& shattered our neighborhood

he was a seventh son never known

to be in the wrong place at the wrong time

or to leave a poker game empty handed never robbed never arrested

never beaten by a crazy cop & he was always lucky


playing the numbers until they drew him

a seven in the draft lottery & now

everyone was nervous the patriotic eulogy

no consolation how would life deal to us

spoke up a drunk gambler

if it didn’t leave enough of him to fill a coffin



II


et al

the moon does not linger


the moon does not linger

in this neighborhood


naked as a silver dollar

she sneaks out from behind a building

or a cloud of smoke


and hurries west

into the suburbs of new jersey

or the corporate farms of quiet kansas


leaving the poor lunatics

madly staggering

or dreaming amid constellations

of streetlights

counting

their fortune

Something Fishy


Be the first on your block!

the ad proclaims

Wear our new Prodigal Princess shoes!

Clear plastic!

Happily hyper-elevated!

With gold buckles

and a real live goldfish in each heel!


Here she comes—

the first to obey the commanding black majuscules.

She smiles

proud as a successful fisherman.

Like Ahab she limps

bitten by the sharp gold buckles.


She sails across the street

buoyant on the real live goldfish

whose reflection she watches

unaware of the red light

and the speeding white bus

now spouting its horn.


Full speed ahead

she escapes the thrashing king of rolling highways

but her left shoe

broken at the buckle

does not.


The fish

though constantly trying

cannot swim through the plastic

until the heel is crushed.

Then he flies freely through the air

graceful as a sea gull

an albatross

an erne.

He falls to the asphalt

wiggles his tail in dead earnest

and dies.


Lamenting the price of the shoes

cursing the bus

she hobbles on the surviving heel

and sinks into the crowd of shoppers.


The fish rests on his side.

One eye

always open

stares

at the sky.


the miracle



jerry knelt outside the church. eric hid behind a pillar on the loggia. as an old woman walked by, jerry yelled: oh god, please send me a pair of sneakers. a slightly used pair of sneakers fell into jerry’s waiting hands. the old woman’s eyes opened wide. she was about to kneel when eric, barefoot, came down the stairs and smiled. the old woman raised her cane. jerry scrambled to his feet and began to run, but the old woman just shook her head and tapped her cane on the sidewalk. and laughed.

the old woman


through the window the world hangs

painted shut long ago

brown

with grease and dust

a lifetime of his smoke

and her cooking with garlic


the great

great grandmother sews

in time to the clock’s ticking

stitches which hold

everything together


the empty birdcage shivers in a draft

his pipe cold upon the ashtray


she draws her shawl

embroidered with canaries

and flowers


children playing in the distance

her fingers

are nimble

still

late one hot august


late one august

so hot and sticky it seemed

september would never come

late one hot august

in the fireplug’s frigid spray

a girl splashed naked and young


late one hot august

while a clutched beercan cooled the hydrant’s roar to a hiss

and rainbows bubbled over cobblestones

late one hot august

a fountain arched silver to the sky

and fell


late one hot august

when numb fingers let the bent can slip

and sprawling the child flung far into the street

late one hot august

a passing coal truck

crushed her head like an eggshell

late one hot august

her unborn life ran out

late one hot august

and rippled with the currents

late one hot august

and sank into the sewers

late one hot august

of brook avenue

the day i threw thoreau off the roof



was three days after a riot, was two days after our mayor toured the property damage, was a day after the radio told me i lived in a slum, was my first day off work in months. the day i threw thoreau off the roof, was a hot day which melted the tar, was another day of the mosquitoes which bred in the backwater of the sewer our city would never fix and bit anything that could still bleed. the day i threw thoreau off the roof, was the angry day i refused to do my homework, was the happy day i watched yellow pages flutter down the airshaft like poisoned pigeons. the day i threw thoreau off the roof, was not up to civil disobedience, was just sick of reading about those damn beans.


they disappear


day and night they disappear

lovers of smiles and moonlight and swollen dolphin bellies

that shoot like stars over the waves

whispering

a birth

a birth


they disappear

some beaten on side streets in the afternoon

while the children are in school studying history

some dragged screaming from their lovers’ arms

before the newborn moon can open its eye


they disappear

are hidden underground where there is no green utopia

are left to slow death in the gray world

are chained naked to dank walls and nibbled by desperate rats

are denied the tomb’s comforts


they disappear

although some are allowed to return after many years

with beards and volumes which are read and reviewed

sold underground or catalogued in the library of congress

although some organize rape workshops

some fight for the poor

and some whose constitutions permit it preach

in parks to squirrels and pigeons


they disappear

no

grendel the great fen monster has not eaten them

no

singing fairies have not carried them away

no


hands with knives and guns and government papers

are taking them

hands with blackjacks and chains and cattle prodders

are taking them

hands shaped like fists

are taking them

voices of many languages

condemn them

curses in barrooms and on bronx streets

condemn them

military juntas and corporate conspiracies and terrorist kidnappings

condemn them

hands with knives and guns and government papers

are taking them

hands with blackjacks and chains and cattle prodders

are taking them

hands shaped like fists

are taking them

voices of many languages

condemn them

curses in barrooms and on bronx streets

condemn them

military juntas and corporate conspiracies and terrorist kidnappings

condemn them

condemn them

condemn them

and they disappear


soon

there will be no one left

what i remember most about hughes avenue


where retired italians sweating in beach chairs

watch tides that never come



what i remember most


and midnight’s nomads drift through the christmas wind



what i remember


that torrid apartment with walls of ice



what


is moments of twilight with you in my arms

a candle dancing upon a ceiling



there is joy among our shadows



we are lulled

to the flickering



and we

for

get

of bootblacks (for al)


the eyes of bootblacks

do not see where shoes go

after they walk out of sight


the foreheads of bootblacks

recall the hides’ stains

and soles worn beneath the buff


the hair of bootblacks

is every color

their backs droop with the growing strength of age


the arms of bootblacks

snap the rag’s rhythm as hours dance

their feet seldom travel

yet are weary with the day’s journey


the mouths of bootblacks

tell no lies

and speak the world’s tales


the ears of bootblacks

hear all within earshot

even when they do not listen


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