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CLOSE / Parnassiad

Peace and Other Stories

Fragments of a Formerly Active Sex Life

The Ballad of St. Mark's Place
by Marc Sobel  /  poetry  /  21 Jul 2007

On a crowded corner of St. Mark's Place

Near a cobbled, concrete porthole

Where a tiny sycamore pokes through,

Its roots, choked and thirsty,

Beneath the swollen cement

Stands a solitary man,

Idle amid the chaos of holiday shoppers


He listens carefully

To the swirling sounds that fill the air

The housefly buzz of fluorescent bulbs,

The fury of cell phone conversation fragments

The self-centered chatter of over-privileged teenagers

Struggling to define themselves

With tattoos and piercings and misguided anger


And in this frenzied scene

The man breathes deeply,

Inhaling the faint scent of salt water

Mixed with car exhaust, french fries and sweat

And thinks of his mother.

And as the banging of keg-barrels grows louder,

An erratic heartbeat, like a steel drum

He wonders where that City is now, her City

Whose sounds she described so eloquently

Whose nightly soundtrack was the only poetry

In her darkened world


He wonders where that beautiful chorus has gone,

That buoyant, unpredictable orchestra

That used to flow through the back alleyway,

Up thirteen flights of rickety stairs,

Down the dank hallway, with its peeling plaster

Underneath the rattling front door

And into that single room

Where the sounds swirled and collided with each other

Dancing like moths in the flickering shadows

Hovering in the air like incense


For a brief, idyllic moment,

As the first raindrops kiss the crevassed flesh of his face,

The man shutters his eyes,

Barricading the artificial light,

And returns to that tiny room.

Once again, he sits quietly in the corner,

A child of six, maybe seven years

Recalling, if only for a second,

His father's sleepless torment

A day laborer with thick, calloused hands,

Permanently blackened and scarred,

His agitated coughing attacks,

Shattered the nights' performances

With their increasingly violent assaults


But as he delves deeper into the caverns of his past

Even the anguished wheezing of tired lungs fades,

And his ears fill with a menagerie of forgotten sounds -

The saxophone from the Five Spot

Echoing off the faded bricks of the old tenements,

The early morning clinking of empty milk bottles,
The urgent whistles from hotel bellmen,

And the rhythmic clack-clacking of horseshoes

Along the uneven cobbled street stones,


Drifting further back, he once again hears

The muted church bells' hourly cries

And the mosaic of colorful voices,

In scores of foreign tongues

Gathered under the Bridge Theater marquee,

And the midnight barking of stray dogs,

A symphony of urgent, hungry cries.


All these sounds return to him at once,

Flowing together like watercolors in the rain

And somewhere just behind his eyelids,

The full force of his childhood floods him,

A surge of spirit he has not felt

In some eighty years,

And overwhelmed,

A delicate smile

Cracks through the icy surface of his face


But as quickly as his heart swells, it sinks

As an impatient orchestra of car horns

And the deafening pulse of a jackhammer

Smash through the brittle layers of his past
And thrust him, bewildered and alone,

Back into the soot and the filth of the street corner

With only the bleak torment of fading memory

To help him endure the piercing blare of a car alarm

And the faint, distant wale of an ambulance

Wading through permanent gridlock.

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