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West Fourth Street

                    —for Jerry Stern

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 frequently 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: not that I have conquered these passions
They have worn themselves out

And if I smile admiring four Brazilian men
Playing handball on a sunny concrete court
Shouting in Portuguese

Goatskin 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.

Alicia Suskin Ostriker

The Book of Life: Selected Jewish Poems, 1979-2011
University of Pittsburgh Press

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