By Robert Pinsky b. 1940 Robert Pinsky
They stack bright pyramids of goods and gather
Mop-helves in sidewalk barrels. They keen, they boogie.
Paints, fruits, clean bolts of cottons and synthetics,
Clarity and plumage of October skies.

Way of the costermonger's1 wooden barrow
And also the secular marble cinquefoil and lancet
Of the great store. They persist. The jobber tells
The teller in the bank and she retells

Whatever it is to the shopper and the shopper
Mentions it to the retailer by the way.
They mutter and stumble, derelict. They write
These theys I write. Scant storefront pushbroom Jesus

Of Haitian hardware—they travel in shadows, they flog
Sephardic softgoods. They strain. Mid-hustle they faint
And shrivel. Or snoring on grates they rise to thrive.
Bonemen and pumpkins of All Saints. Kol Nidre,2

Blunt shovel of atonement, a blade of song
From the terra-cotta temple: Lord, forgive us
Our promises, we chant. Or we churn our wino
Syllables and stares on the Avenue. We, they—

Jack. Mrs. Whisenant from the bakery. Sam Lee.
This is the way, its pavement crackwork burnished
With plantain. In strollers they bawl and claw. They flourish.
Furniture, Florist, Pets. My mongrel tongue

Of nudnik3 and criminentlies,4 the tarnished flute
And brogue of quidnuncs5 in the bars, in Casey's
Black amber air of spent Hiram Walker, attuned.
Sweet ash of White Owl.6 Ten High. They touch. Eyes blurred

Stricken with passion as in a Persian lyric
They flower and stroke. They couple. From the Korean,
Staples and greens. From the Christian Lebanese,
Home electronics. Why is that Friday "Good"?

Why "Day of Atonement" for release from vows?
Because we tried us, to be at one, because
We say as one we traffic, we dice, we stare.
Some they remember that won't remember them—

Their headlights found me stoned, like a bundled sack
Lying in the Avenue, late. They didn't speak
My language. For them, a small adventure. They hefted
Me over the curb and bore me to an entry

Out of the way. Illuminated footwear
On both sides. How I stank. Dead drunk. They left me
Breathing in my bower between the Halloween
Brogans and pumps on crystal pedestals.

But I was dead to the world. The midnight city
In autumn. Day of attainment, tall saints
Who saved me. My taints, day of anointment. Oil
Of rose and almond in the haircutting parlor,

Motor oil swirling rainbows in gutter water.
Ritually unattainted, the congregation
File from the place of worship and resume
The rumbling drum and hautbois7 of conversation,

Speech of the granary, of the cloven lanes
Of traffic, of salvaged silver. Not shriven and yet
Not rent, they stride the Avenue, banter, barter.
Capering, on fire, they cleave to the riven hub.

FOOTNOTES: 1.  Archaic term for apple seller; now a term used in London to mean one who sells fruits and vegetables in the street.
2.  Kol Nidre is the evening service that begins Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. On this night, one may be forgiven for previous promises made to God that have not been fulfilled.
3.  Pest (Yiddish).
4.  This is not standard Yiddish but probably a combination of Yiddish and English, meant to suggest criminals or vandals.
5.  Nosy people or busybodies (Latin).
6.  These are brand names for alcoholic beverages.
7.  Oboe.

Robert Pinsky, "Avenue" from The Figured Wheel: New and Collected Poems 1966-1996. Copyright © 1996 by Robert Pinsky. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC, www.fsgbooks.com. All rights reserved.

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Source: Jewish American Literature: A Norton Anthology (W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2001)

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Poet Robert Pinsky b. 1940

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Subjects Living, Love, Activities, Eating & Drinking, Relationships, Home Life, Religion, Judaism

Holidays Yom Kippur

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Robert  Pinsky


Robert Pinsky is one of America’s foremost poet-critics. Often called the last of the “civic” or public poets, Pinsky’s criticism and verse reflect his concern for a contemporary poetic diction that nonetheless speaks of a wider experience. Elected Poet Laureate of the United States in 1997, his tenure was marked by ambitious efforts to prove the power of poetry—not just as an intellectual pursuit in the ivory tower, but as a . . .

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SUBJECT Living, Love, Activities, Eating & Drinking, Relationships, Home Life, Religion, Judaism

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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