Winter, 1947


Welcome coal dust coated the scrawny

leafless elm, struggling to survive

in a 3 x 5 square of gray earth,

one square for every pair of faded orange brick

row houses. Ten pairs, anchored at the four corners

by identical six-story apartment buildings,

squatted on each side of Montgomery Street,

between Kingston Avenue and Albany Road,

Brooklyn, New York, no zip code.

Filthy snow, piled curbside where the plows

pushed it, could not melt in the January cold.

It was Thursday, and the big truck

rumbled in the alley, pausing ten times

at the spot where the sluice sliced

open the perimeter of each house, and

spewed forth its warming cargo.

Blue-black, glistening lumps over-

spilled the bin, coming to rest on the cellar floor.

I earned a nickel, not voluntarily,

picking up the pieces, restoring

each to the spot where later

it would feed the furnace fire, sacrificed

to boil the water in the slate gray

cast-iron radiators above,

whose hissing was so often heard,

it ceased to be heard.

Last night, I heard it become silent.