Cool, inaccessible air
Is floating in velvety blackness shot with steel-blue lights,
But no breath stirs the heat
Leaning its ponderous bulk upon the Ghetto
And most on Hester street...
Nosing in the body’s overflow,
Like a beast pressing its great steaming belly close,
Covering all avenues of air...
The heat in Hester street,
Heaped like a dray
With the garbage of the world.
Bodies dangle from the fire escapes
Or sprawl over the stoops...
Upturned faces glimmer pallidly—
Herring-yellow faces, spotted as with a mold,
And moist faces of girls
Like dank white lilies,
And infants’ faces with open parched mouths that suck at the air
as at empty teats.
Young women pass in groups,
Converging to the forums and meeting halls,
Surging indomitable, slow
Through the gross underbrush of heat.
Their heads are uncovered to the stars,
And they call to the young men and to one another
With a free camaraderie.
Only their eyes are ancient and alone...
The street crawls undulant,
Like a river addled
With its hot tide of flesh
That ever thickens.
Heavy surges of flesh
Break over the pavements,
Clavering like a surf—
Flesh of this abiding
Brood of those ancient mothers who saw the dawn break over Egypt...
And turned their cakes upon the dry hot stones
And went on
Till the gold of the Egyptians fell down off their arms...
Fasting and athirst...
And yet on...
Did they vision—with those eyes darkly
That looked the sun in the face and were not blinded—
Across the centuries
The march of their enduring flesh?
Did they hear—
Under the molten silence
Of the desert like a stopped wheel—
(And the scorpions tick-ticking on the sand...)
The infinite procession of those feet?
I room at Sodos’—in the little green
room that was Bennie’s—
And her old father and her mother,
Who is not so old and wears her own hair.
Old Sodos no longer makes saddles.
He has forgotten how.
He has forgotten most things—even Bennie who stays away
and sends wine on holidays—
And he does not like Sadie’s mother
Who hides God’s candles,
Whose young pagan breath puts out the light—
That should burn always,
Like Aaron’s before the Lord.
Time spins like a crazy dial in his brain,
And night by night
I see the love-gesture of his arm
In its green-greasy coat-sleeve
Circling the Book,
And the candles gleaming starkly
On the blotched-paper whiteness of his face,
Like a miswritten psalm...
Night by night
I hear his lifted praise,
Like a broken whinnying
Before the Lord’s shut gate.