I'M Not Langston Hughes - Poem by Alexandra Reiss
The subway comes above ground on 96th street, where men’s jockey shorts cling damply to the curb, defying dignity, where beer-battered boxes, cardboard constructions, stink outside on sidewalks: houses in front of houses.
Here, immigrants rush to fill the cracks of the rickety pre-war brownstones with memories of the old country and the smell of ethnic food. Who, here, remembers the Cotton Club? These houses, now just relics. Skeletons, of some brown-and-out bebop heyday.
On the corner a shopping cart doubles as a spit, and a man with plastic bags over bare feet, roasts a pigeon on a wire coat hanger. He hands out scraps of meat to a convoy of similar carts and rickshaws. Bits of bird are accepted as sacraments. Here, where church is held on the sidewalk and where bread exists
only as an abstract notion- unattainable, like money to pay the rent.
Perched mid-block, on a crate that used to hold oranges, a gypsy sells batteries and makes no attempt to conceal the conspicuous absence of a right eyeball. The empty pouch: not sad but tired.
Here, someone else continually makes plans to build some new luxury high-rise apartment complex. No one ever breaks ground. Of course there is the inevitability of the urchins, scrambling through any opening wide enough in the scaffolding. They steal steel beams and copper pipes. They melt them down. They turn them into money.
Painted cement pillars separate brownstones from rowhouses and lack of
clapboard siding – even if last week’s paper is plastered wet to the column, as if
it will protect the peeling paint from the indecency of some bum’s 3AM relief.
Tonight, everybody is over at the A&P. Tonight: $1.69 per pound of cube steak. Outside weathered blue police blockades, left over from some parade, are stacked up against the chain-link fence surrounding the “community garden.”
Here, a sign on the fence reads: “No Dumping” and makes everybody laugh.
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