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Audio & Text:  the shoe shine parlor poems et al  section  II


Click the triangle to listen to the poem while you read it.




the bronx at the end of the mind

each day clutching

on steeple and sill

of factory and office


the soot grows black


fire escapes rust

subways roar        rocking foundations

cracks in the pavement

flow wide        fast        free

and empty

into the gnarled tides

which gnash the cement shores

of this god trusting land


the stench that crawls from the sludge

wanders like a swart thought

through this harbor city


night calls the ghosts of spice

fried fish and incense

to dance out the windows


again the feast


our singing drowns the sea


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 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

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


the hands of bootblacks

are calloused where brush joins flesh


their art is to pound

the grin of a thunderbolt

onto a landscape of bunion

and crease

the accordion player

he is gone              that gray haired man

with the roman nose        who bellowed up airshaft

and alley        down street and avenue

songs the old folks knew        and danced

and seemed young forever in the immortality of music


he is gone              that arm swaying man

who tipped a gray cap        who smiled and skipped

fingered and squeezed the air

as if a virgin        who bed the wind in a box

as a loud deity


he is gone              who panned the gray windows

and ears of this iron city like a god        embarked

from the foothills of a golden time        shedding wordless ditties

that rustle migrant memory to a younger day

an older way        and the children were happy


silver        nickel        copper        pure from the outstretched arms

of the barely poor        too heavy with work

too thin with youth        to pump music from the grind and drone

the clatter and chatter of the trolley shaken cobblestones

and the crescent white belly through the orchard street suit        bulges


earns a mortal living        while crowds gather in groves

on hot streets        squinting        stunned after the gloom

of hallway and bedroom         the fruits of labor

ringing and clinging through the applause

rolling round the thick soled shuffle of his feet


or they stare        obscure paintings behind windowpanes

crooked in their frames        lining the long thoroughfares

and the stagnant airshafts        those interior courtyards

four walls of splotched mortar and rough cut brick

the cracked pavement below        a square of sky above


and the weatherbeaten clotheslines of the crisscrossed world between

drooping diapers and bedsheets that cry        underwear

dripping clean from the sweat of love              or they lean

from the worn sills of endless edifices        brown or maroon        ash or cream

crumbling crockets long rooted in brick        grave with the unique venations              of life


a husband        a wife        baby in a bib        wrinkled women in grease bellied frocks

yank open the venetian blinds              plaid skirted high school girls

fondling lockets and dime store pearls        unshirted men        tattoos

and cigars        crucifixes        garlic cloves        a few scars

and everywhere the eyes of children


watch notes and chords rise        leaves on the updraft of a wild dream

burst from bustling esplanade and shaded yard        past corniced facades

where sparrows nest among the lotus and rosette of the festooned modillion

past spires and crenelations and the common copings of tile and stone

past patched tarpaper rooves and pigeons circling endlessly home


he is gone              that gay eyed man with the baggy clothes whom no spring

will ever return              who shuffled away while the sun swooped low

a breeze blew up the street        and the verdure burned with autumn

he is gone                into the miasmas of music        gone

butch

in darkness before the bronx sunrise when the fighting does end

when the screaming side streets die down to damp silence

when shattered glass embeds itself in dull memory


when sticks no longer swing        when the knife's flash

no longer sparkles the guttural and shrieks of rabid snarling men

and hysterical women        and illuminates the laughter

and cries of wide eyed children


in darkness when bullets lie cold in graves of flesh and brick


in darkness when time is too quiet        he sets it right

and his cry echoes down the night

btchooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

btchooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo



in darkness between the two suns and after fortune takes its daily toll

after winners and losers shuffle home from curbside poker games

that spiralled like a chant from sunset        long into the late night


after the midnight stickball champs share their last beer

after the ivory dominoes are polished with a white cloth

and entombed in black leather        after the crapshooters' prayers

and dances roll to a death rattle        and the clicks

and mutterings bury themselves in catacombs of tenements


in darkness when the gambling is done the clawed cock’s feathers

rise from the corpse in the wind


in darkness when time is too quiet        he sets it right

and his cry echoes down the night

btchooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

btchooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo



in darkness between time’s snake eyes dawns the dim light

of forgotten childhood's crystalline afternoons

before the gypsy cab strikes        before fresh blood

casts like prophecy over iridescent asphalt        and the mind’s shell

cracks upon the squared sidewalks of concrete realityin darkness the urchins' sunny jeers

in darkness the lips refuse to close


in darkness when time is too quiet        he sets it right

and his cry echoes down the night

btchooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

btchooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo



dawns the din of young afternoons        shouts of red rover

red-light-green-light-1-2-3        skullcap        skullcap        skullcap

running the hot streets        before brainsurgeons aping mortality

drive metal plates like the cadillacs of civilization

into the sprawling alleys of the run down psyche

and the unfortunate soul is rescued from heavenly high rises

which shine amid eternal streetlights

beyond the wheelings and dealings of the stars


in darkness the urchins' sunny jeers

in darkness the lips refuse to close


in darkness when time is too quiet        he sets it right

and his cry echoes down the night

btchooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

btchooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo



in darkness        in the crevice between two moments

before the cock crows        before a trace of twilight

fades the unseen east        after the starry pitch

stained to the depths the night        and the moans

of distant lovers strangled in sleep


when i stare into my own restless darkness


a silhouette in an unlit window

a burning voice

that certain eye

through the night

btchooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

btchooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

weeds

we are weeds


we are everywhere weeds who stand together and grow in lonely places

where grass and trees will not


we are ancient weeds who have multiplied and sent our children

upon the four winds to the polar wastelands and to the jungles

and deserts of the great solar circle


we are strong weeds sweating at dawn        sick weeds choking on pesticides

toiling weeds who grasp the rich earth        brittle weeds who wither

beneath dry suns


we are wise weeds who fear bulldozers


we are sad weeds who watch cities rise like tombstones from the graves

of our ancestors


we are many weeds who litter the lots of abandoned landlords        who loiter

upon the renovated window boxes of graffitied brownstones


we are penniless weeds deposited along broken riverbanks where the corporate

surplus flows to the ocean's vault


we are swaying weeds who crawl around factories        who are contaminated

at industrial parks        erased in college campuses        and burnt upon

suburban lawns


we are lofty weeds stranded on rooftop islands of soot        reckless weeds

whistling between railroad ties as trains pass        carefree weeds

in the city’s eroded parks        dancing


we are restless weeds who creep through the concrete’s cracks like banshees

from the green underworld        who wail the foreclosed land where all share

the earth's poverty        who moan in the wind        who bask in the sun

who eat the soil        who drink the rain


we are weeds


we dream of freedom

the shoe shine parlor poems et al  is available as an e-publication from Smashwords:

www.smashwords.com/books/view/625141




the miracle

the day i threw thoreau off the roof

what i remember most about hughes avenue

of bootblacks

the accordion player

butch

weeds

the moon does not linger

something fishy

the old woman

late one hot august

they disappear

the bronx at the end of the mind