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COLD-WATER FLATS.

Laudate sie, Signore mio, per sor' Aqua la quella e molt' utile e umile e prezios' e casta.

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.
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Author:WINTERS, ANNE
Publication:Chicago Review
Article Type:Poem
Date:Mar 22, 2001
Words:411
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