That bummy smell you meet
off the escalator at Civic Center, right before
you turn onto McAllister,
seems to dwell there, disembodied,
on a shelf above the sidewalk.
The mad old lady with lizard skin
over her shopping cart
and trailing a cloud of pigeons
is nowhere in sight.
A pile of rags here and there
but no one underneath.
An invisible shrine
Old mattresses and dusty flesh,
piss and puked-on overcoats, what?
now there’s a smell that likes to stick around.
You used to find it in downtown Sally Anns
in a hospital cafeteria, only faintly,
after a bite of poundcake.
But here it lives,
cheek by jowl with McDonald’s,
still robust after a night of wind
with its own dark little howdy-do
for the drunks and cops,
social workers and whores,
or the elderly couple from Zurich
leafing cooly through their guidebook.
August Kleinzahler, “East of the Library, Across from the Old Fellows Building” from Red Sauce, Whiskey, and Snow. Copyright © 1995 by August Kleinzahler. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC, www.fsgbooks.com. All rights reserved. Caution: Users are warned that this work is protected under copyright laws and downloading is strictly prohibited. The right to reproduce or transfer the work via any medium must be secured with Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.
Source: Red Sauce Whiskey and Snow
(Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1995)
Poems by August Kleinzahler