Under the El Tracks

What I so clearly remember
From the years we lived beneath the el tracks,
Or just blocks from them, were the freezing
Waits for the train and the hopelessly long
Walks through the neighborhoods-Harrowgate,
Torresdale, Fishtown, the bums and crosswalk prophets

We’d encounter. Always the same: what will it profit
A man, if he gains the whole world? I remembered
Meeting one preaching outside the shut gate
Of a half-demolished art-deco theatre. He tracked
Our arrival, our baby strolled deep in her long
Afternoon nap, questioned our wisdom-letting her freeze

Like this. My wife with her camera busily freezing
The twisted steel beams, drooping finials, scenes a prophet
Might relish, beads of gilt debris melted in the long
History of midnight fires, crack, and rats. What we won’t remember
In the rush to rebuild. This was the place beneath the tracks
Where prostitutes sheltered all winter, their gate-

Way to cruising cars, one by one, with that skirt-hiking gait,
Raising 5 or 10 fingers, like figures in an ancient Chaldean frieze.
Everyone takes them in: walkers, drivers, passengers on track-
Less trolleys-you might wonder if they’re the harlots the prophet
Ezekiel railed against: Oholah and Oholibah as they remember
Their Egyptian lovers, whose members were as long

As those of horses, those sisters who continued to long
For the orgies of their youth, before the city shut its gate
To them. Officers with girded loins remembered
Even in exile, even in the heat of this deep freeze.
They crowd around, cooing over the baby-the prophet
Isn’t paying attention,-losing track

Of time and money to be made under the El tracks.
It seems they’ve been doing this for so long
You’d think they’d learn by now. Forget the prophet
Ezekiel’s rant, listen to Isaiah instead. Enter the gates
Of the city. Take your harps and sweet songs. Don’t freeze.
Sing that you may be remembered
Leonard Kress has recent work (poetry and fiction) in Barn Owl Review, Passages North, Harvard Review, New Orleans Review, River Styx, Atticus Review, and Philadelphia Stories. Most recent poetry collections are Braids & Other Sestinas, The Orpheus Complex, and Living in the Candy Store. He lived in Philadelphia for 45 years before having to relocate to the Midwest. He currently teaches philosophy, religion, and creative writing at Owens College in Ohio.

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