Burnside Avenue: 1970

 

Just 19, I found myself living on the second floor

of a ramshackle walk-up loft in the Bronx.

The first floor shared by a grim Kosher chicken

butcher who hangs his plucked birds like kielbasa

in rows by the window, and a zipper repair shop

whose owner was once a tailor in the old country,

before the brandings.

 

We are among the first freaks encroaching

into a nub still living the mother tongue. Fresh

boiled bagels fill the dawn with the scent

of yearning. Each bialy a blossoming

inner city honeysuckle. Rills of chocolate run

from hot marbled bobkas at the bakery down

the block among an exodus of apricot rugelach.

 

As if gathered from a confluence of exotic

caravans, appetizer shops brim with the taste

of a severed past. Under the elevated train

on Jerome Ave, an all night fruit peddler

mumbles to himself in mame loshn as he waits

beneath his marquee of painted pineapples

dancing with Chiquita bananas.

 

The brick pre-war apartments are bangled

with fire escapes. A milchik luncheonette, hidden

beneath the worn overcoats of its customers,

serves meatless blessings to those who still live

in a past defined by the numbers on their arms.

But all that seemed normal to us, benighted

and coming with bruises of our own.

Published in 2 Bridges Review