IV. Street Music (from City Elegies)

Sweet Babylon, headphones. Song bones.
At a slate stairway’s base, alone and unready,
Not far from the taxis and bars
Around the old stone station,
In the bronze, ordinary afternoon light—
To find yourself back behind that real
City and inside this other city
Where you slept in the street.
Your bare feet, gray tunic of a child,
Coarse sugar of memory.

Salt Nineveh of barrows and stalls,
The barber with his copper bowl,
Beggars and grain-sellers,
The alley of writers of letters
In different dialects, stands
Of the ear-cleaner, tailor,
Spicer. Reign of Asur-Banipal.
Hemp woman, whore merchant,
Hand porter, errand boy,
Child sold from a doorway.

Candy Memphis of exile and hungers.
Honey kalends and drays,
Syrup-sellers and sicknesses,
Runes, donkeys, yams, tunes
On the mouth-harp, shuffles
And rags. Healer, dealer, drunkard.
Fresh water, sewage—wherever
You died in the market sometimes
Your soul flows a-hunting buried
Cakes here in the city.

© 2017 Robert Pinsky