Issue 81, Fall 1981
laminar, complex scent arrives
from somewhere west and I keep coming to lean on the sill,
glorying in the end of the wretched winter.
The scabby-barked sycamores ringing the empty lot across
the way are budded—I hadn’t even noticed—
and the thick spikes of the unlikely urban crocuses have
already broken the gritty soil.
Up the street, some surveyors with tripods are waving each
other left and right the way they do.
A girl in a gymsuit jogged by a while ago, some kids passed,
playing hooky, I imagine, and now the paraplegic
Vietnam vet who lives in a half-converted warehouse
down the block
and the friend who stays with him and seems to help him
out come weaving towards me, their battered
wheelchair lurching uncertainly from one edge of the
sidewalk to the other.
I know whete they’re going—to the “Legion;” once, when I
was putting something out, they stopped,
both drunk that time, too, both reeking—it wasn’t ten
o’clock—and we chatted for a bit.
I don’t know how they stay alive—on benefits most likely. I
wonder if they’re lovers.
They don’t look it. Right now, in fact, they look a wreck,
careening haphazardly along,
contriving as they reach beneath me to dip a wheel ftom the
curb so that the chair skewers, teeters,
tips, and they both tumble, the one slowly, almost gracefully
sliding in stages from his seat,
his expression hardly marking it, the other staggering over
him, spinning heavily down, to lie on the asphalt, his
mouth working, his feet shoving weakly and fruitlessly
against the curb.
In the storefront office on the corner. Reed and Son, Real
Estate, have come to see the show:
gazing through the golden letters of their name, they’re not,
at least, thank god, laughing.
Now the buddy, grabbing at a hydrant, gets himself erect
and stands there for a moment, panting.
Now he has to lift the other one, who lies utterly still, a
forearm shielding his eyes from the sun.
He hauls him partly upright, then hefts him almost all the
way into the chair but a dangling foot
catches a support-plate, jerking everything around so that he
has to put him down, set the chair to rights and hoist
him again and as he does he jerks the grimy jeans right
No drawers, shrunken, blotchy thighs; under the thick white
coils of belly blubber the poor, blunt pud, tiny,
terrified, retracted, is almost invisible in the sparse
then his friend pulls his pants up, he slumps wholly back as
though he were, at last, to be let be.
and the friend leans against the cyclone fence, suddenly
staring up at me as though he’d known
all along that I was watching and I can’t help wondering if
he knows that in the winter, too,
I watched, the night he went out to the lot and walked,
paced rather, almost ran, for how many hours.
It was snowing, the city in that holy silence, the last we have,
when the storm takes hold,
and he was making patterns that I thought at first were
circles then realized made a figure eight,
what must have been to him a perfect symmetry but which,
from where I was, shivered, bent,
and lay on its side: a warped, unclear infinity, slowly, as the
snow came faster, going out.
Over and over again, his head lowered to the task, he
slogged the path he’d blazed but the race was lost, his
prints were filling faster than he made them now and I
up across the skeletal trees to the tall center-city buildings,
some, though it was midnight,
with all their offices still gleaming, their scarlet warning-
beacons signalling erratically
against the thickening flakes, their smouldering auras
softening portions of the dim, milky sky.
In the morning, nothing; every trace of him effaced, all the
field pure white, its surface glittering, the dawn,
glancing from its glaze, oblique, relentless, unadorned.