EAST OF THIRD (Original publication Penmen Review)
EAST OF THIRD
(After Corot’s Hagar in the Wilderness)
Ish drives a cab down Eldridge Street
and mutters under his breath as he passes the temple.
He speaks to no one as they enter
and exit his taxi.
After work, he walks Hester and Orchard Street
searches for half smoked cigarette butts
He smells of the city’s incense:
bus fumes, car diesel, smoke.
Ishmael is the city incandescent.
He scratches his face, beard,
flakes of dead skin
litter his shirt.
When the sun starts its descent
he begins the long walk east and north
up to El Barrio,
if he’s got money he takes the 3rd Avenue bus,
passes Carnegie Hill,
with its bakeries and shops,
croissants, gold baguettes, bagels.
When the weather’s good, like today,
warm, but cool enough not to smell
the city’s summer stench,
he dreams along the East River
of the father he never had.
thirsty for a life not
his mouth, dry
for his hapless mother.
He knows jealousy,
that even Corot’s brush of
innocence will not help.
God will listen,
but will his brother?
His body moves through the city’s decades:
the sound of others underfoot,
sidewalks beaten hungry.
Italian, Irish whiskey,
Puerto Rican pork and beans,
and Chinese halal.
He climbs the hill
crosses over to 2nd Avenue
stops at the Kitchen for
the saffron turns his potatoes and turnips,
golden; the bowl warms him ancient.
He sets out for his mother.
Each block east, the food
begins to disappear
no flower carts,
of roses, orange day lilies, baby’s-breath.
Everyone is wheezing,
an ache in the chest,
the smell of old fires
burns in his lungs,
storefronts for the addicted,
a wasteland of abandoned buildings.
He finds his mother,
hustling on 125th Street.
Her diabetic feet, yellowed, calloused
too swollen for shoes,
she’s rolling dice with the old men,
lucky seven she prays,
gives him cash if she makes any.
God will provide she tells him,
I’m feeling lucky tonight.
They head up the hill, together.
The wafered sun
slips beneath the horizon
and scattered molecules of light
in the ethered night
let the tired day go.
upon their heads.
It’s the blue hour,
even in this city.