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Steve Deutsch


There was a time bookstores ran for blocks

along 4th Avenue—the air outside

seasoned with mildew and must.

Nowadays, you need a treasure map

to find one—yet I do, on a shabby side

street, next to dry cleaners

and across the alleyway

from a Chinese take-out.

Outside there’s a cart—

there is always a cart—stuffed

with paperbacks at 5 for a buck,

each by an author who struggled to find

just the right word. The owner

is ageless and wears a sweater

his grandmother might have knitted.

He is as unhappy to see me

as all those 4th Avenue book men

were so long ago.

Inside, it is as hushed as a church

at 3 AM and just as holy.

A floor and a half packed

with books of every description

struggling for notice on sagging shelves

and floor-to-ceiling stacks.

There is a basement

but no Charon to row you there.

I spend a happy hour

browsing. I buy nothing—

I rarely do. Truth is, I collect

these old shops like friends

collect stamps. Rickety rooms

of a million memories—

a million buried secrets.

What you told me

You told me it was a big

wide world and the road

outside our door

would take us anywhere.

We couldn’t have been

much older than ten

when you told me

you were ready

to pack a toothbrush

and head for Route 66.

You told me to expect

postcards from all

the places you might visit,

and I imagined a card

from Wyoming

showing you herding cattle

and branding calves,

six gun dangling from your hip

and a forty gallon hat

over your eyes and ears;

or one from Alaska

of you panning for gold

in an icy stream

and holding up a nugget the size

of your head. You told

me of Paris, Moscow

and Warsaw and I pictured

you supping Borscht

on the banks of the Vistula.

You told me of poverty,

famine, and war,

and I saw you leading

a calvary charge—saber

flashing as bright

as your smile—

or all in white, bringing

vaccine to the children

of Turkey or Argentina.

But it was 1953

and your mother told me

of polio,

iron lungs,

and how you would never

walk again.


Steve Deutsch is poetry editor of Centered Magazine and is poet in residence at the Bellefonte Art Museum. Steve was nominated three times for the Pushcart Prize. His Chapbook, Perhaps You Can, was published in 2019 by Kelsay Press. His full length books, Persistence of Memory and Going, Going, Gone, were published by Kelsay. Slipping Away was published this spring. Brooklyn was awarded the Sinclair Poetry Prize from Evening Street Press and has just been published.


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