Mid-morning hustle when every object for sale
or trade imagines itself an offering of something more:
name the spirit that gathers inside a pair of loafers, the flesh
that might be filled by flower delivery trucks, or the hard
soul cast into light by the stainless gleam of restaurant supplies:
steam-tray, convection, long gasp of chrome along Bowery sidewalks.
I’ve just walked from downtown and the bakery where a woman
asked for eighty bagels and the man behind the counter,
white apron creased and floured, wanted his money upfront.
Her confused stare matched his. Envelopes of stubbornness
and sympathy between them. Between us. I thought of blue letters
my late grandfather sent in wartime. They announce hours
of waiting—minor commands, mealtime, sleep. They grain
and vanish within their shoebox; my grandmother
no longer able to understand what they mean
or who wrote them. A kind of love lost at both ends.
The woman paid and the man filled brown bags with bread.
They smiled in their final, clear exchange. I stepped outside
into the shimmering light of morning to walk uptown.
Even when the world flickers its contingencies
of scale, its compromises, I remind myself to look up—
stone gate, backbone of a fire escape, silver blade of sky—
what moves without its counterweight in place and pulling?
Joshua Rivkin’s poems and reviews have appeared in American Letters & Commentary, Beloit Poetry Journal, Center, Gulf Coast, and on Verse Daily. He lives in Washington, D.C. (10/2006)