This one's called East of the Library, Across from the Odd Fellows Building, which is an area in San Francisco just off Market Street around the Civic Centre where I was working in a rather grim situation involving homeless veterans.

East of the Library, Across from the Odd Fellows Building


That bummy smell you meet
off the escalator at Civic Center, right before
you turn onto McAllister,
seems to dwell there, disembodied,
on a shelf above the sidewalk.

The mad old lady with lizard skin
bent double
over her shopping cart
and trailing a cloud of pigeons
is nowhere in sight.

A pile of rags here and there
but no one underneath.
An invisible shrine
commemorating what?
Old mattresses and dusty flesh,

piss and puked-on overcoats, what?
Maybe death,
now there’s a smell that likes to stick around.
You used to find it in downtown Sally Anns
and once

in a hospital cafeteria, only faintly,
after a bite of poundcake.
But here it lives,
cheek by jowl with McDonald’s,
still robust after a night of wind

with its own dark little howdy-do
for the drunks and cops,
social workers and whores,
or the elderly couple from Zurich
leafing cooly through their guidebook.

from Red Sauce, Whiskey, and Snow (Noonday Press, 1995), copyright © 1995 by August Kleinzahler, used by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.

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