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The Peddlers: Poetry

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The Peddlers I

All that midtown weekend
when I walked
from hotel room
to tobacconistbroadway-corner-w72-street
to hotel room
to cafeteria
young black men
tried to sell me sunglasses.

From 34th to 60th
four or five to a street
they stood
behind milk crates
spectacles on display.

The peddlers were never
white or tan or brown
but always deepest ebony:
men in the full bloom of youth
young black men
who shone with energy
and reeked of despair.

I kept buying sunglasses:
pink with flared frames
yellow butterflies
with rhinestones
thin round wire rims
but on the next blocksunglasses-three
four more milk crates

I was haunted by visions
of sunglasses sliding
over hollow black skulls.
All night
I watched Mary Tyler Moore
for reassurance
but in the morning
they’d returned:
black men
in the full bloom of youth
standing in the street
selling sunglasses.

In the Russian Tea Roomstreet vendor
a golden-skinned man
poured water over ice
while my mother speared a herring
and insisted I’d been conned:
the glasses were a scam
and the peddlers, millionaires.

The Peddlers II

All over Paris
in every cafe
my compatriots were singing
We Are The World.
A young Tunisian waiter
picked my brain for information.
Proudly I identified Bruce
Springsteen, Ray Charles.Paris vendors

Outside the Louvre
and at the Eiffel Tower
young black men
hawked white plastic doves.
Ancient statues
were draped with their displays.

Vous etes nee ou? I clumsily asked.
He replied, Senegal.

My mother tugged my sleeve
and we walked to Jeu de Paumes
where more Senegalese youth
sold their wares at the door.

I bought beads, chains, feathers,
flowers for my hair
but still the master’s statues
stood bedecked with modern trinkets.street vendors

I’d come 3000 miles
in search of higher culture
to find sidewalk desperation
in France Ethiopia Senegal
America Tunisia Nicaragua

Nous sommes le monde.


One response »

  1. Your poems are full of insights into the human condition. Well done. I’ve always thought that if you could travel around the planet and not feel uncomfortable, there must be something wrong with you.

    Thanks for your comment. I really appreciate it, coming from someone who takes such stunning photos of nature.–MS

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