The lox man is waiting
behind the counter
in the back of the store,
an anachronism under an ancient
blue Dodger baseball cap,
gray hair and goatee surrounding
his pudgy pink cheeks and flabby chin.
It doesn’t hurt that his name is Nathan
and that he speaks with the slightest
Jewish inflection when he says,
“Hi, what can I get you?”
It’s one of those gourmet supermarkets
so prevalent in big cities these days.
For the last twenty years
I’ve been feeling like a man
left out on the desert with only a canteen
suddenly finding himself in the middle
of a freshwater spring.
I have memorized Nathan’s schedule,
hours and days,
his name as indelible in my mind
as my password at the ATM.
He is an artist, a genius of sorts,
an inspiration to workers everywhere,
a man who knows how to cut lox
with the skill of a surgeon,
the slices so thin you can barely
see through them, each one uniform
and together laid out like a mosaic
on the white wrapping paper.
He offers me a taste to help me decide
and he takes one himself before commenting:
“This piece is a little salty because it’s too
close to the head. Let me get you a different one.”
I’m staring at him like he’s God
and maybe he is: “Too close to the head?”
His generosity is overwhelming,
his wisdom beyond question.
“A quarter of a pound, please,” I say,
exiting like a disciple walking on air.
—from Rattle #18, Winter 2002
Tribute to Teachers
Alan Harawitz: “A retired teacher, I spend about none months of the year in my native Brooklyn, New York, and the remainder in central Maine. Evenings are spent listening to NPR, then writing poetry to the sound of the loons crying at the moon.”