East of the Library, Across from the Odd Fellows Building

By August Kleinzahler b. 1949 August Kleinzahler
That bummy smell you meet
off the escalator at Civic Center, right before   
you turn onto McAllister,
seems to dwell there, disembodied,
on a shelf above the sidewalk.

The mad old lady with lizard skin   
bent double
                over her shopping cart   
and trailing a cloud of pigeons   
is nowhere in sight.

A pile of rags here and there
but no one underneath.
                                 An invisible shrine   
commemorating what?
Old mattresses and dusty flesh,

piss and puked-on overcoats, what?
                            Maybe death,
now there’s a smell that likes to stick around.   
You used to find it in downtown Sally Anns   
and once

in a hospital cafeteria, only faintly,   
after a bite of poundcake.
                                       But here it lives,
cheek by jowl with McDonald’s,   
still robust after a night of wind

with its own dark little howdy-do
for the drunks and cops,
social workers and whores,
or the elderly couple from Zurich   
leafing cooly through their guidebook.

August Kleinzahler, “East of the Library, Across from the Old Fellows Building” from Red Sauce, Whiskey, and Snow. Copyright © 1995 by August Kleinzahler. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC, www.fsgbooks.com. All rights reserved. Caution: Users are warned that this work is protected under copyright laws and downloading is strictly prohibited. The right to reproduce or transfer the work via any medium must be secured with Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.

Source: Red Sauce Whiskey and Snow (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1995)

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Poet August Kleinzahler b. 1949

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Subjects Social Commentaries, Cities & Urban Life

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 August  Kleinzahler


Often described a “pugnacious” and a “pugilist poet,” August Kleinzahler’s reputation rests on his jazzy, formally inventive and energetic poetry, though he has also garnered notice as something of a bad-boy literary outsider prone to picking fights with the establishment. Hailing originally from Fort Lee, New Jersey, and a long-time resident of San Francisco, Kleinzahler’s fame as a colloquial poet of “dive bars, greasy soup, . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Social Commentaries, Cities & Urban Life

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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