It is not the way I desire to end
up, like this man in his fifties, at the crossing
of two thoroughfares, selling his poems
on pale-colored Xerox sheets, devotional literature
spread across a plank on cinderblocks
by a corner stand of cantelopes, mangoes, plantains and peaches
— a worthwhile market for poetry.
Each page is a dollar, he explains, chatting on.
A makeshift sign lists famous names:
“My poems have appeared in books
along with Robert Frost, T. S. Eliot, Langston
Hughes…” He shows me where: a thumbed, battered
Silver Burdett reader like one I was given in grade school.
He still talks so I try to read a poem; he is speaking
about the single time he appeared on television,
age nineteen, and it was predicted in a vision
by his grandmother. His poem is
not good. It is about pretty and rhymes predictably,
a voice praised too soon, not given time to ripen.
He gets my attention, now, his talk turned uncharming
into a chorus: “Money and fame, that’s all I want.
Money and fame.” What a lame reason for being
a poet. I think of young Wallace Stevens, saying
all of New York had its price, vice to virtue.
He was just out of college, happy to live
on what he could earn without needing a handout
from his father. He’d walk about the city in search of
fruit stands like these of the Upper West Side, where
he could get fresh mangoes and papaya, exotic fruits
that were favorites of the stevedores he met hanging
around the wharves. Charity eludes me, today, I don’t buy
any poems. But I do make resolutions: to work hard
every day, to marry the woman I love, not to join
the poetry mafia, to leave New York, never to sell myself
short. Under the shelter of awnings I ponder the fruit
laid in careful pyramids, the hidden form of spheres
made clear, the stacks of fresh lemons and pears,
and musing quietly nearby, as if in a vow of silence,
the grocers, their elegant faces ever so watchful.
Originally published in Cincinnati Poetry Review, Number 25, Fall/Winter 1993.