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.
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.
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,
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 cracks an attractive smile
I walk past the man as he stands at the counter
And with the insides of my sneakers
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
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,
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.