I don’t often pass through this part of the city,
though it’s on my way uptown as the crow flies.
I don’t feel at home here, or streetwise – it’s cold,
even when the sun is warming the chimneys,
and dark to boot. My footsteps lose their beat,
the paths are so skewed, so irregular here.
The people are not the same as mainstreet people –
a woman comes dashing out of the shoe repair
(Heels-While-U-Wait) shop and cries sorry; pieces
of burnt paper float from somewhere behind me,
and the man loping rapidly ahead of me
without looking back shouts ‘Shag off, will ye!’
(but not angrily) at some guys just out of range
of the corner of my eye. They say nothing at all,
these guys, as the loper increases his lead,
nor do they overtake me. The hot sharp smell
of burnt paper darts to the back of my throat,
and I think a small fragment, like a green flake
of distemper from the wall of an old porch,
has landed on my shoulder, but I can’t check
or be seen to brush it off. Stepping into mainstreet
is like returning through the looking-glass without
a moment’s notice – shoppers tucked in behind me,
not a thing on my shoulder, slight catch in my throat.