Tonight, like every night, you see me here
Drinking my coffee slowly, absorbed, alone.
A quiet creature at a table in the rear
Familiar at this evening hour and quite unknown.
The coffee steams. The Greek who runs the joint
Leans on the counter, sucks a dead cigar.
His eyes are meditative, sad, lost in what it is
Greeks think about the kind of Greeks they are.
I brood upon myself. I rot
Night after night in this cheap coffee pot.
I am twenty-two I shave each day
I was educated at a public school
They taught me what to read and what to say
The nobility of man my country's pride
How Nathan Hale died
And Grant took Richmond.
Was it on a summer or a winter's day?
Was it Sherman burned the Southland to the sea?
The men the names the dates have worn away
The classes words the books commencement prize
Here bitter with myself I sit
Holding the ashes of their prompted lies.
The bright boys, where are they now?
Fernando, handsome wop who led us all
The orator in the assembly hall
Arista man the school's big brain.
He's bus boy in an eat-quick joint
At seven per week twelve hours a day.
His eyes are filled with my own pain
His life like mine is thrown away.
Big Jorgensen the honest, blonde, six feet,
And Daniels, cunning, sly,all, all
You'll find them reading Sunday's want ad sheet.
Our old man didn't know someone
Our mother gave no social teas
You'll find us any morning now
Sitting in the agencies.
You'll find us there before the office opens
Crowding the vestibule before the day begins
The secretary yawns from last night's date
The elevator boy's black face looks out and grins.
We push we crack our bitter jokes we wait
These mornings always find us waiting there
Each one of us has shined his broken shoes
Has brushed his coat and combed his careful hair
Dance hall boys pool parlor kids wise guys
The earnest son the college grad all, all
Each hides the question twitching in his eyes
And smokes and spits and leans against the wall.
We meet each other sometimes on the street
Sixth Avenue's high L bursts overhead
Freak shows whore gypsies hotdog stands
Cajole our penniless eyes our bankrupt hands.
"Working yet?" "The job sent come
Got promised but a runaround."
The L shakes building store and ground
"What's become of Harry? and what's become
Of Charley? Martinelli? Brooklyn Jones?"
"He's marriedgot a kidand broke."
And Charley's on Blackwell's, Martinelli's through
Met him in Grand Centralhe's on the bum
We're all of us on the bum"
A freak show midget's pounding on a drum
The high L thunders redflag auctioneers
Are selling out a bankrupt world
The hammer fallsa bid! a bid!and no one hears . .
The afternoon will see us in the park
With pigeons and our feet in peanut shells.
We pick a bench apart. We brood
And count the twelve and thirteen tower bells.
What shall we do? Turn on the gas?
Jump a bridge? Boxcar west?
It's all the same there's nothing anywhere
A million guys are sitting on their ass
We always land
Back where we started froma parkbench,
Cold, and spitting in the sand.
Who's handing us a runaround?
We hold our hands for sale arms brain
Eyes taught to figure accurate ears
We're salesmen clerks and civil engineers
We hang diplomas over kitchen sinks
Our toilet walls are stuck with our degrees
The old man's home no work and we
Shall we squat out our days in agencies?
Or peddling socks shoelaces ties?
We wrench green grassblades up with sudden hands
The falling sun is doubled in our asking eyes.
And evening comes upon us there
Fingering in the torn pocket of our coat
The one cold nickel of our subway fare .
Night after night in this cheap coffee pot
I brood upon our lives. I rot. They rot.
The Greek's awakened from his dream. The dead cigar
Drops ash. He wipes the coffee bar.
He goes to fill the boiler once again.
The clock hand moves. A fly soars down
And stalks the sugar bowl's bright rim.
And I compare myself with himthis fly and I
He crawls head downwards down a peeling wall
And I crawl after him.
You ask "Tomorrow?" . . . Go ask Fernando in the eatquick joint.
Ask Jorgensen pounding Sixth Avenue. Ask Martinelli too,
Watching the hole enlarging in his shoe.
And ask me herealone with the crawling flies
And I . . . I have seen the pain there in their eyes.
We shall not sit forever here and wait.
We shall not sit forever here and rot.
The agencies are filing cards of hate.
And I have seen how men lift up their hands
And turn them so and pause
And so the slow brain moves and understands
And so with million hands.