Spring Crucifixion in Camden, 1993

He spoke to me the other night

That man there.

He was out with one of his buddies

Out under the decaying urban veranda,

The scent of spring blossoms

Trailing off to sleep

Against the ghetto dust

And gleaming skyline

Of business building core.

“She’s beautiful,” he whispered

Raising his chin to the window.

I held a bucket of grease

And spilled some on my sneakers

Nodding after him.

“Does she have a boyfriend?” he inquired.

“Yes . . .yes she does, ” I lied.

The Man’s buddy consoled:

“Now you know a girl like that

Is going to have a boyfriend.”

I looked over at the glowing skyline and agreed–

It’s a matter of fact

The world on its axle spins.

 

***

Every night

The steam from the mini-mart grill

Spirals out the chimney pipe,

Dissipating the dream of a cheese steak

Out into the neighborhood

Where early gasps of spring air

Have been swallowed by the bleak night.

Every night

I return from out of the darkness

Into the store

With my empty grease buckets

And through the blinding light

I see the same man

At the cash register

Eyeing his disengaged angel.

“Do you have any,” he breathes,

“Incense?”

She stoops to check the inflated price

And offers a smile in consolation

Because the man cannot afford his desire.

The angel knows this

But still the man drops a quarter into angel’s hand

And receives

In return

A Tastykake

And cracks an attractive smile

Every night,

I walk past the man as he stands at the counter

And with the insides of my sneakers

Quivering,

Return to the warmth of the grill

To clutch the spatula

And long for the end of my own torment.

I look at the man’s angel

And she is the romantic red glow

Of the horizon

Forever viewed through the tunnel

Of a telescope

Until she comes to me with an order

As her voice tiptoes in broken English:

“Is cheese steaky . . . with . . .”

“Uh, with lettuce and tomato,” I assist

And marvel

At the dainty movement of her feet

As she smiles and skirts away,

I look at a young couple

Being beautiful  to each other

In front of me

And nurture myself

On the milk and cookies

Of burnt pizza and Coca-Cola,

As the man drops his head

And exists the store.

I return to the grill

Relieved that I do not

Have to go out into the night.

 

***

During the day

The man’s son comes in off the streets

With the cousin

To drop a quarter in the machine.

Yo, Snotty,” hoots the cousin,

“Why don’t you give me forty cent?”

The boy shakes his head,

But the cousin persists

So the boy stammers adamantly,

“I-I don’t got no forty-niner’s cap!”

I look at the son’s crooked eyes

Through which I see

Innocence that is exploited

By the neighborhood

And the intelligence that I see

In the look of an earnest man

Who watches the beads of life

Travel down their string of broken promises

Almost as fast

As the snot travels out

An eight year old nose.

But the cousin ignores

The intelligence in the crooked eyes:

“What!” he snaps, “Give me that!

You so crazy!”

In the “I-I don’t got no forty-niners cap.”

I imagine his father,

That dark profile,

Cat against the glowing sky.

Here in my haven against the night

The grease from the deep fryer

Burbles and sputs

And everyone melts into one,

The equal opportunity of the consumer:

Everyone with money is free.

Here in fifteen minutes

The man will return for another TastyKake

And admire the angel

With a longing that will never cease.

 

***

Somewhere in the world,

Lovers are in their gardens

Beneath the setting sun;

Somewhere, sterile offices with tinted windows

Loom in the skyline

Beckoning two thousand stories high.

But for me and that man over there

There is nothing but our histories.

Together we eye the angel

behind the cash register,

While inside

We are dying.

I look at the angel,

I look at about every girl

Who comes into this place

Because spring is in the air

And I cannot help but hope.

I dream memories of blue skies

Neath mountains that glisten with dew.

I dream floral fields that sprout

For the ebb and flow of cloud.

For me the world revolves in eternal cycles

Of distant and forbidden dreams

And though it is spring,

Many of us lie dead in the dust.

Author: Tim Dreby

I am an award-winning author and practicing psychotherapist

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