these summer nights roil, too hot to sleep. I sit on the fire escape,
pan-handling for the spiral of a breeze from the stale air, as I
observe the tenement across the way.
it peers out at the vagrant streets thru dirty windows, & every window
has a dirty story. whores, junkies; outlaws & expatriates. but mostly
common people, cast into a quagmire of despondence by this ugly
world. the guy in 12C, rocking the cradle of a motherless baby. the
stripper in 8B, who sits in a claw-footed bathtub, smoking. her eyes
are dark but dancing, noon to midnight.
there is Rita, who used to be a good girl, that’s what I tell her. ‘I
still am,’ she says. ‘you gotta be good to score in this town, there’s
a hooker in every alley & hallway.’
she’s adamant about the fine art of her trade: how she rescues the
lonely Hamlets among the Uriahs & wife-beaters. she makes sure they
can afford her, then she serves them the austere passion they’d never
find in divebar dames & the dolls on the avenue.
she picked me up, lonely & craving. I paid her & I took from her,
perhaps not without regret. she entangles me in her naked, nurturing
arms & legs. her hair smells sweet, her neck & shoulder taste like spice.
when I blow off the pallid streamings of my portentous agony, I tremble,
I shake like the quaking ground.
she holds me hard – Shona: another word for beauty. as if we were
lovers. so I linger, till I remember I’m on top of a whore.
what irony, to have sex with a prostitute, then get very drunk, & imagine
that I almost love her.
‘stick around, soldier,’ she says. ‘ I’ll fix you a drink.’
and she will, too.
after she counts her money…
(Art: Merry Alpern, 'Dirty Windows')