Archive for the 'casualties' Category

on the sidewalk

I have a neighbor who looks away whenever we pass on the sidewalk. He’s younger than he is old, and thin, and the thing about this man is the tremendous pouches under his eyes, sagging down to his sharp cheekbones. I imagine that he never sleeps. His landlady lives on the ground floor of his building, but it is him I see on the weekends tending to the things growing in barrels out front. Pulling weeds tenderly, pinching wilted flowers. Maybe he has made peace with his insomnia. Maybe the pockets beneath his eyes are filled with undreamt dreams.

at the post office

The line is long and slow, isn’t it always. The man in front of me is rocking a sleeping baby back and forth in a cheap stroller. He’s got the blackest hair and his skin is rosy brown. Finally it’s his turn, and there’s something a little frightened in the way he approaches the window. He’s holding out a tissuey paper, a carbon of some kind of official form. His words are soft and incomplete as he says to the clerk, “I need a photocopy. Can I do here?” She shakes her head. “No?” he asks, still a little hopeful. “I can not do that here?” The clerk waves him away.

He turns the stroller around and wheels it slowly toward the door. He’s looking at the paper in his hand. He’s navigating strange territory, things don’t work the way they work at home. He’s got the door open when a fat woman steps out of the line, clucking her tongue at the whole situation. “Over there,” she tells him, pointing out the window. “Across the street at the Arab store. They do it.” She patted him on the arm. “Just cross the street, honey.”

I swear he was about to cry.

in the neighborhood

I pass a man on the sidewalk you can tell is crazy just by looking. He’s got those eyes pinned permanently open in horror. A few steps on I hear him grunting behind me. I turn back. He’s holding out the mittens I have unwittingly dropped.

On the corner, two cuffed black teenagers are being folded into a cruiser by seven fat white cops.

down the block

The cold air is bitter and dry. There’s a man crouched down by the church parking lot, where a tribe of cats holds sway, either stalking the open ground, or perched like sentinels near the gate. The man is heavily bundled against the cold, but there’s something off about him, a raggedness. He is unkempt in a way that suggests hard times. He has been still, crouched for a long minute before he reaches his bare fingers under the bottom of the chain link fence. He waits. The cats approach, and seeing he has no food to offer, retreat. He waits. One of them rubs up against the fence and then passes by and licks the man’s fingers, a throwaway gesture as the cat moves on to perch on an old tire. The man turns to me, he has known all along I was watching. “They make me happy,” he says. “You know?”

by the bodega

He’s always in front of one of them, pacing around or rocking on an upended milkcrate. His skin has the browned hardness of a person who takes in every ray of sun he encounters. His hair is thick and shocked straight, merging into an equally thick and stiff-straight beard around the chin. His clothes are eternal and dirty, though the only smell that reeks from him is boozy sweat on warm days. I don’t know if he lives anywhere, but he is always at his post, on this corner or on that. He speaks and gestures almost constantly, unintelligible in any language. The only words I’ve ever understood from him have been “good morning,” and “god bless you.” He’s never a threat, he’s just carrying on a lively conversation with a world the rest of us don’t see. Sometimes if his inner dialogue casts itself in my direction, I say hello. Yesterday in the sunny chill, I walked by, and it was one of those days, so I greeted him. He looked me straight in the eye and said, “Look, it’s the queen of the neighborhood!” Then he retreated into himself again.

in the east village

There’s a splattered coffee on the ground, a startled woman surrounded by strangers-in-aid. A man is yelling at another man, and then the smaller one pivots and breaks into a practiced sprint, his legs blurred in the slight rain. The yelling man runs after him, they dodge through the people on the sidewalk like a car chase. The coffee is still there, the woman is still there, she is still shaken. The sprinter has half a block over his pursuer. They race around the corner out of sight.

in alphabet city

Every time I come down here, something else is gone. Now a man with a fine-boned face and an untucked shirt walks toward me, his arm angled out like a dandy’s. He comes closer and I see that he’s been crying in a dry and quiet way as he walks, the face quivering and the eyes ringed red. Up close the cocked arm seems to be holding him up, no longer a flourish. It’s so early in the morning, it all bespeaks heartbreak. A final night, a last, fumbling exit, a sorrow that sinks like a stone.