On Broadway

Alistair Elliot

There are some small shops left. The name
over the door was half a physics textbook.
A little bell announced me. I began
by showing that my watch, or time itself,
had worn away its strap, the animal skin
that holds the disc of Chronos where I see it.

The man was older than me, and grey
where I am reddish, the pommettes not ripened
by glances of the sun: a prisoner
of commerce in his twilit glass-walled cell,
spied on all day by the faces of unsold watches.
I found his straps too dear, and shyly said so:

‘You see, I live by writing verse.
One poem beds and boards me for two days,
but who can write a poem every day,
or every other?’ He was a poet too,
but not for money. We compared our work.
‘I write about the cost of watch-straps.’ He wrote

on German concentration camps.
‘When I was twelve, my father had me taught
to understand the works of watches: people
would always want to know the time. One day
we were all arrested. After that, I fixed
the broken watches in twenty-one different death-camps.’

Few can have made so grand a tour
of infamous places. Should I have enquired
about his horrible itinerary?
I could imagine him in small bureaux
returning life to fine machines, alone,
unable to enquire about the customers.

‘The commandants transferred me like
a football-player; I earned my life, but not
my father’s or my mother’s or the others’ ... ’
He made me take a sixteen-dollar strap
for nothing. We shook hands, for one moment
Landau & Elliot, the old firm, family poets.