Cambridge Book Review

Clark Street Rag

John Lehman

On a night that shadows make tents
of backrooms a streetcar strums
past the cemetery
on the corner of Clark and Wilson
as Harold the Upholsterer
eyes a 1911 D penny,
the air in his shop suffocating
as a worn cushion-
dusty, warm, smelling of mold.

"I lost this," he says and points
to a left ear chewed past the lobe,
"in a fight to a guy
who vomited so hard he died...
with the help of a pen knife."

Floorboards creak in the vacant
apartment above.
Harold runs his thumb along the
counter's glass edge.
He is a Pharaoh with a jeweler's lamp
and the moon's rays trapped
in his tomb.

"Four dollars."
It twists from his mouth, a sound
like dry leather,
to the boy with an envelope
clutched in his hand.

And my heart plays banjo
to a city of small deals!

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