Sidewalk Poem #5

Under the Window: Ouro Preto

[for Lilli Correia de Araujo]

The conversations are simple: about food,
or, "When my mother combs my hair it hurts."
"Women." Women!" Women in red dresses

and plastic sandals, carrying the almost
invisible babies -- muffled to the eyes
in all the heat -- unwrap them, lower them,

and give them drinks of water lovingly
from dirty hands, here where there used to be
a fountain, here where all the world still stops.

The water used to run out of the mouths
of three green soapstone faces. (One face laughed
and one face cried; the middle one just looked.

Patched up with plaster, they're in the museum.)
It runs now from a single iron pipe,
a strong and ropy stream. "Cold." "Cold as ice,"

all have agreed for several centuries.
Donkeys agree, and dogs, and the neat little
bottle-green swallows dare to dip and taste.

Here comes that old man with the stick and sack,
meandering again. He stops and fumbles.
He finally gets out his enameled mug.

Here comes some laundry tied up in a sheet,
all on its own, three feet above the ground.
Oh, no -- a small black boy is underneath.

Six donkeys come behind their "godmother"
-- the one who wears a fringe of orange wool
with wooly balls above her eyes, and bells.

They veer toward the water as a matter
of course, until the drover's mare trots up,
her whiplash-blinded eye on the off side.

A big new truck, Mercedes-Benz, arrives
to overawe them all. The body's painted
with throbbing rosebuds and the bumper says

The driver and assistant driver wash
their faces, necks, and chests. They wash their feet,

their shoes, and put them back together again.
Meanwhile, another, older truck grinds up
in a blue cloud of burning oil. It has

a syphilitic nose. Nevertheless,
its gallant driver tells the passersby

"She's been in labor now two days." "Transistors
cost much too much." "For lunch we took advantage
of the poor duck the dog decapitated."

The seven ages of men are talkative
and soiled and thirsty.
Oil has seeped into
the margins of the ditch of standing water

and flashes or looks upward brokenly,
like bits of mirror -- no, more blue than that:
like tatters of the Morpho butterfly.

-Elizabeth Bishop

[Old fountain street, St. Peter Port. via Priaulx Library.]


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Here, I do not actually imagine it will have effect.

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nice poem! did you write it ? seems that you love the sidewalks of your city