I. Great Lady on a White Horse
Morning clatters with the first L train down Allen Street. Daylight rattles through the windows, shaking the old brick houses, splatters the girders of the L structure with bright confetti.
The cats are leaving the garbage cans, the chinches are going back into the walls, leaving sweaty limbs, leaving the grimetender necks of little children asleep. Men and women stir under blankets and bedquilts on mattresses in the corners of rooms, clots of kids begin to untangle to scream and kick.
At the corner of Riverton the old man with the hempen beard who sleeps where nobody knows is putting out his picklestand. Tubs of gherkins, pimentos, melonrind, piccalilli give out twining vines and cold tendrils of dank pepperyfragrance that grow like a marshgarden out of the musky bedsmells and the rancid clangor of the cobbled awakening street.
The old man with the hempen beard who sleeps where nobody knows sits in the midst of it like Jonah under his gourd.
JIMMY HERF walked up four creaky flights and knocked at a white door fingermarked above the knob where the name Sunderland appeared in old English characters on a card neatly held in place by brass thumbtacks. He waited a long while beside a milkbottle, two creambottles, and a copy of the Sunday Times. There was a rustle behind the door and the creak of a step, then no more sound. He pushed a white button in the doorjamb.
"An he said, Margie I've got a crush on you so bad, an she said. Come in outa the rain, you're all wet. . . ." Voices coming down the stairs, a man's feet in button shoes, a girl's feet in sandals, pink silk legs; the girl in a fluffy dress