All the streets of Brooklyn were once cobbled,
in the times when we gauged our days
by the clopping of each peddler's wagon.
Monday brought the fruit and veg man,
his earthy wagon smelling of sour greens.
A buzz of fruit flies dervished above
the twitching ears of his tired nag.
With no second thought he hawked
the sorriest cabbage and bruised fruits first,
mean-fisting pennies from the street's most poor.
Wednesday, the cutler came, his belled horse
hip-bumping along the cobbles, clink-clanking
as he banged arrival upon a pot; his blue-black hair
slick and smelling of pomade, he leered a
gold-toothed smile, pulling the women's attention.
He sharpened their knives on his long hard steel,
playing sweet street-symphonies to the
voluptuous matron crowds who brandished
sheers and scissors, knives and cleavers;
hoards of women whose unleashed mettle
could strike men dead.
Yet for this beer-bellied mountain they smiled and
cooed and dickered for a penny's worth of grind.
Sparks flying, he worked his beefy arms,
singeing the hairs upon his fatty knuckles,
making the youngest of them blush with the heat of him.
Friday found the fishmonger, laddy-faced
with a wagon sweating water from its ice-heavy belly.
Its smell filled the streets like a shallow tide,
as matrons and mothers, mainly Catholic,
begged and bartered for their men's supper.
He gave a fair piece of fish for the money,
being a good son of Erin and respectful of the Church.
The women knew a saint when they saw one.
Only the rag man came without warning, his pale steed
more hoary than its rider. No clanking pans or waft of odour,
or buzzing plague of flies preceded his hollow rolling.
He gave no more than he took and spared no mercy
to the secret pickings of the poor.
'Rags! Bring out your rags!'
his draped wagon a softly, creaking shroud,
wearing other men's tatters like skin.
The dirty linen of each man's castle,
the tawdry secrets of every woman's keep,
for pennies he absolved them of their sins and stains
marking time by the threads of their kin.
We never guessed when he might come again,
and we never rallied when he did.
(First Published in Long Poem Magazine, Issue One, Winter 2008/2009)