But nearer seen
This litter of the East
Takes on a garbled majesty.
The herded stalls
In dissolute array...
The glitter and the jumbled finery
And strangely juxtaposed
Cans, paper, rags
And colors decomposing,
Faded like old hair,
With flashes of barbaric hues
And eyes of mystery...
Like an ancient tapestry of motley weave
Upon the open wall of this new land.
Here, a tawny-headed girl...
Lemons in a greenish broth
And a huge earthen bowl
By a bronzed merchant
With a tall black lamb’s wool cap upon his head...
He has no glance for her.
His thrifty eyes
Their hoarded looks
Upon his merchandise,
As though it were some splendid cloth
Or sumptuous raiment
Stitched in gold and red...
He seldom talks
Save of the goods he spreads—
The meager cotton with its dismal flower—
But with his skinny hands
That hover like two hawks
Above some luscious meat,
He fingers lovingly each calico,
As though it were a gorgeous shawl,
Or costly vesture
Wrought in silken thread,
Or strange bright carpet
Made for sandaled feet...
Here an old grey scholar stands.
His brooding eyes—
That hold long vistas without end
Of caravans and trees and roads,
And cities dwindling in remembrance—
Bend mostly on his tapes and thread.
What if they tweak his beard—
These raw young seed of Israel
Who have no backward vision in their eyes—
And mock him as he sways
Above the sunken arches of his feet—
They find no peg to hang their taunts upon.
His soul is like a rock
That bears a front worn smooth
By the coarse friction of the sea,
And, unperturbed, he keeps his bitter peace.
What if a rigid arm and stuffed blue shape,
Backed by a nickel star
Does prod him on,
Taking his proud patience for humility...
All gutters are as one
To that old race that has been thrust
From off the curbstones of the world...
And he smiles with the pale irony
Of one who holds
The wisdom of the Talmud stored away
In his mind’s lavender.
But this young trader,
Born to trade as to a caul,
Peddles the notions of the hour.
The gestures of the craft are his
And all the lore
As when to hold, withdraw, persuade, advance...
And be it gum or flags,
Or clean-all or the newest thing in tags,
Demand goes to him as the bee to flower.
All who come and go
With his amazing
Slight-of-mind and glance
And nimble thought
And nature balanced like the scales at nought—
Looks Westward where the trade-lights glow,
And sees his vision rise—
A tape-ruled vision,
Circumscribed in stone—
Some fifty stories to the skies.