Working here in the alley just off Thirteenth Street
I heard echoes of "Clara" amid soul-piercing sobs -
A woman shambled over, arms glued to her sides,
Empty hands holding invisible sand bags.
Tear-streaked, wet cheeks, still crying,
Paused, wailing "Have you seen my Clara?"
I wanted to help her, really I did
So pathetically lost, sad, hopeless and desperate.
Yet I answered with truth, "No, I didn't"
Who was this woman, and Clara, at that?
Maybe a child, wandered away ages ago,
Mother, gray, tormented, still searching...
"Then *******", she yelled, shuffling away
Toward Thirteenth Street, unconcerned
She wore just one slipper for two ashy feet.
A simple reply could've tendered new hope
Of holding dear Clara
Before death finally stole her
Then an old sod danced his odd waltz,
Legs still unsteady, he stopped here
To water the wall -
Swore he knew me - two soldiers in 'Nam -
But I was too young.
Remarked my health must be failing,
He'd never seen me so pale, suggesting
Medicine from the brown bag he held.
He offered to hold the long ladder steady
So I wouldn't fall again like I did in Saigon.
"No!", I held firm, but we commiserated
Our hard times since then;
Dayday, and Niney, our friends
Never came back, though we see them
Sometimes in this alley.
Then Matty, my brother, stumbled away
In search of lost buddies in bottles of gin.
Tiki, so skinny, ever the beauty, insisted
We go on a date right there in the alley,
Grabbing my crotch to punctuate
Her proposition, as if words weren't enough.
I offered she was quite pretty, but then
"If only I wasn't married," I lied, so she settled
For the cigarette I lit for her instead;
Wondered when work would be done-
Get to business, making used condoms,
Repaving the alley just off Thirteenth Street.
Perched high on my ladder, I could just see
Distant Broad Street, latex expressions of love
No longer sticking to treads of my boot.
Out there on that corner,
A man from The Nation selling bean pies,
Ignored me for days when I passed him by;
Asked me this morning if I'd like to try
The healthy delicacy he'd held high to God.
I felt blessed, accepted, he addressed me.
Rastafari, camped on the other side,
Still passed out free samples of Passion and Bliss,
Names he gave to incense he wished
Would transform shattered glass and trash
Into the heaven his dreams said might be.
I wore his fresh gifts, sticks behind each ear
Perfuming the stink of stale *****, used condoms
And I wondered if they walked here, too,
Through this alley just off Thirteenth Street.
Copyright 2010 Robert Zanfad