A Candy Store in Washington Heights
One of those two-bit luncheonettes on a nothing
block with Coca-Cola
signs and an owner who looks like Groucho Marx.
One of those holes in the heat
wall of summer
up the hill from the bridge and its lighthouse.
One of those prewar leftovers
that specialize in Hamilton Beach malted mixers
and fans on the ceiling
where BLTs were always
a quarter and the owner, Levine, still stoops
with a cigar that has been rotting
in his hand for thirty years.
Levine of the gray suspenders,
Levine of the white shirt in summer that is always fading,
Levine of the brown teeth and baldspot, scooping ice cream
from your old horse of a freezer:
By the magazine rack,
by the blackening collection of comics
and dustmice, a boy who has paid for his malted
with his palms up, letting
you dip for dimes,
has his nose in Wonder Woman.
Today he will sneak it under his T-shirt.
While you are screwing the ketchup
or cursing the Germans,
he will slink out the door
with the turn
of your cheek.
Locked in his bedroom
for hours, he will pore over “Wonder
Woman in Jersey City,” “Batman
Trapped in the Cave of Lost Guano”—
and will rise to his mother’s
shouts for dinner only when the scraps
of paper on his desk tell everything
he knows about bridges in sunlight.
Levine of the frankfurter fingers,
Levine of the dishrag and dills,
Levine of the Life Savers, Charms, the small cherry Cokes
that are never enough:
In one of those dustbins
swept up from the gutters of streets
not far from the river that summer,
I stole the cigar from your mouth
and the hundred wads of Chiclets
stuck under your counter.
I stuffed them under my T-shirt.
I kneaded them in my pocket.
I shaped them into a bridge.
I sat at my desk as I shaped
the sun-silver towers, the roadway,
the lighthouse red as a matchtip—
for you, Levine, for you.