emperor of 26th avenue by John Grochalski

the emperor
of 26th avenue
stands baked a fine brown
wielding his cane like a sword
outside the deli
underneath the pimple dick sun
he says, we don’t rent from the chinese here
i don’t let ‘em
good italian folks, he says
you can’t be renting apartments
from those chinese
when there’s still good italian people
that got clean rooms for rent
this neighborhood
everybody back then
they were the salt of the earth
but now…
now they’re all in those muslim headbands
or speaking spanish
squawkin’ that gook talk
the emperor
of 26th avenue
has his two dollars at the ready
for a cup of coffee and the post
the trick is, he says
i don’t let ‘em rip me off
i know what coffee
and the news are worth
but do they?
back before when this deli was run by italians
sometimes you didn’t even have to pay
or they’d let you slide a quarter here and there
folks helping each other out, ya’see?
but not them running the show now
they want to take over america
and turn us into something different
all those buildings
with all those different languages on them
muslim and chinese and spanish
chicken scratch
that’s why i stand here
most mornings and most afternoons
hell, i’ll stand here all day if that’s what it takes
to get things back
the emperor
of 26th avenue
puts his coffee cup on a stoop
and hobbles to the corner
he stands there by the stinking garbage
and the blowing leaves
like a bird shit statue
then he shakes his head
and comes hobbling back
looking like the statue of liberty in bermuda shorts
nursing a bad back
and a bum right knee.

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