Poetry by Bob Friedland


There are no more knish-men
on Pitkin Avenue.
No more flat knishes on waxed paper
sprinkled with too much coarse salt
so the crystals that did not adhere
slid off the smooth paper
on to the top of the sheet metal wagon,
or on to the wide sidewalks,
or off into the wind.
No more Litvaks.
No more Galitzianers.
Just black men in surplus greatcoats
burning beef fat in up-ended oildrums by the slaughterhouse.
Rubbing their hands, shaking and blowing on their knuckles,
passing a bottle, swallowing deeply to stay warm.
There are no more old tailors
not even Mr. Koenig, with numbers
tattooed around their wrists.
No more appetizing-store owners slicing lox,
or offering a taste of wooden-boxed cream cheese
to mothers' boys on the tip of a sharp knife.
No more push-carts,
No more delicatessens with spicy brown mustard
rolled up in small cones of heavy brown waxed paper.
Even Harry Cabot, who drove to Spring Valley with my father,
to buy milk, during the strike.
Even Harry Cabot is dead.


1956, and
Father Knickerbocker in peeling paint,
Dutch colonial dress, cane
and a beer,
peers down from the wall of Dominic's Grocery
over rectangular reading glasses.
A gallon mayonnaise jar
filled with clear liquid,
and a note taped, hand-written,
on sandwich wrapping paper, says,
"Tears of Dodger Fans.
Wait 'til next year."
Across 18th Avenue
the new two-tone Pontiacs sit idle in the showroom,
the live poultry market is closing,
the men with the horse-drawn wagons,
the one who sells javel water,
the other who sharpens dull knives and collects rags,
are finishing their rounds.
The breeze off of Gravesend Bay
is smooth and salty.
The West End rumbles overhead on the El,
where it turns down toward
New Utrecht.
In Whitey's, the boys drink soda,
and re-live the perfect game.


The wind roars up Ocean Parkway
and slices the Sunday morning volunteers
on the spot where Washington marched off
to meet Burgoyne in Long Island.
There's a mural in the high-ceilinged bank.
Now the icy wind freezes the windows thick
with the heavy moist condensate of the bagel bakery
on East Fifth Street.
Inside, platoons of doughy circles are pulled
from hot water, spread quickly on long narrow boards
and advanced into the ovens.
It is warm steamy and loud
with shouted commands and orders.
"A dozen assorted, no salt."
"Six and six."
Under their arms, the volunteers shoulder
the Times, the Mirror, or the Daily News.
The bagels that are almost too hot to hold,
will be frozen by the time they are home.
Its better to eat at least one right away,
and let the warm doughy softness dissolve.

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