Francis of Assisi
From landing to landing, black-stockinged, white threads in a knot,
one woman hits at forte the scale from diaphragm to larynx.
Italian saws the cold air like a peddler
throwing a dog-Latin curse
over one shoulder, one fierce note
through our building's vast, indefinite rumor.
--Guagliu! (her grandson) Vien'a cca, vien'a pranza!
By the light of one dangling bulb, at their kitchen tables, each student
grinds at history, mathematics, courtly love...
The zinc-lidded bathtubs in their kitchens swarm
with gravid, amber-bellied roaches.
From across the court a Saturday Met broadcast
fails to make one chord of twenty cold-water flats.
Electricity: direct current; water-closets
on the landing. Every May, the grandson himself
comes by with a white-papered can
for "The Bride of Saint Francis." I've seen
the grandfather sweep his cash register clean
for just such another can-
two plastic-corded fratelli. He it was
chewed me out when I coolly bought his "ground pet meat."
at ten cents a pound. Ever after I must submit
to the complex folds of his frown, his mute overweighing
of ground beef in shining carnets of waxed paper. And then
all summer he'll rise, one hand on his sidewalk chair,
black-enamelled, back-titled among
the men's chairs as I pass
and touch his welt-seamed cap
not to me but to her
to Donna Poverta ! just tokened
in my ephemeral Village-poverty. In winter
the fire of his vision banks. All our piled-up
windows taped, our stove-burners burning,
seven stories shudder each night as the widow
above me beats her radiator bars
with a long-handled skillet. Below me, even deep
in winter, the just-audible trickle
of Minetta Creek, bricked over
a century ago. Snowfalls. In Minetta Lane, ochre columns
of smoke from the burning garbage. And in the walls, from taps
in the sink and the tub, cold water. Its tang
of stone and metal, icy
at faucet-mouth, numbed lips, unceasing arrival, the water
which later, I think, will seem to have been
most precious--being useful, humble, chaste.
Anne Winters is the author of The Key to the City (University of Chicago Press), and the translator and editor of Salamander: Selected Poems of Robert Marteau (Princeton U.P.). She has received grants from the NEA and the Ingram Merrill Foundation, and fellowships from the Karolyi and Camarop Foundations in France. She teaches at the University of Illinois, Chicago.