West Fourth Street


The sycamores are leafing out
on west fourth street and I am weirdly old
yet their pale iridescence pleases me

as I emerge from the subway into traffic
and trash and patchouli gusts—now that I can read
between the lines of my tangled life

pleasure often visits me -I have less
interfering with my gaze now
what I see I see clearly

and with less grievance and anger than before
and less desire: it is not that I have conquered these passions
they have worn themselves out

so if I smile admiring four Brazilian men
playing handball on a sunny concrete court
shouting in Portuguese

thin gloves protecting their hands from the sting of the flying ball
their backs like sinewy roots, gold flashing on their necks
if I watch them samba with their shadows

torqued like my father fifty years ago
when sons of immigrant Jews
played fierce handball in Manhattan playgrounds

— if I think these men are the essence of the city
it is because of their beauty
since I have learned to be a fool for beauty

by Alice Ostriker