This was a butcher. This, a Chinese laundry.
This was a Schrafft’s with 10-cent custard ice creams.
Off toward the park, that was the new St. Saviour.
Then, for five blocks, not much but chain-link fences.
These foolish things, here today, gone today,
yesterday, forty years ago, tomorrow.
Deloreses and Normas not quite gone,
with slippers on, and heads like white carnations,
little, and brittle, and mum, why did the fine
September weather call you out today?
To dangerously bend and touch a cat.
To lean beside your final door and smile.
To go a block and get a thing you need.
What are you hiding, ladies? What do you know?
Micks were from here to there. Down there, the Mob.
And, way down there, the mob the bill let in.
Far west were Puerto Ricans. Farther west,
in Newark, Maplewood, or Pennsylvania,
one canceled choice away, why, there’s nostalgia,
lipstick, and curls, and gum, and pearls on Sunday.
So here’s a platinum arc from someone’s neck chain,
bass through a tinted window, loudest laughter,
the colored fellow with the amber eyes
who doesn’t need to stand just where he is.
Here sits the son of 1941,
a pendulous pink arm across a chair back;
his sister, she of 1943,
her hair the shade of an orangutan.
Food stamps and welfare, Medicaid and Medicare.
Kilroy was here. Here was where to get out of.
Last come the new inevitable whites.
See how the gracious evening sunshine lights
their balconied high-rise’s apricot
contemporary stucco-style finish.
Smell the pink-orange powder as some punk
sandblasts Uneeda Biscuit off the wall.
Flinch at the miter saw and nail gun,
at three-inch nails that yelp as men dismantle
a rooftop pigeon loft. Those special birds
will not fly home to the implicit neighbor,
or fall like tiny Esther Williamses
in glad succession from a wire, to climb
and circle in the white December sky.
Far up, from blocks away, the pale birds seemed,
when they all turned at once, to disappear.
Across the street, the normal pigeons eat.
A big thanks to Alison McGhee for her thoughtful curation of these poems.