The First Snowfall by Alicia Ostriker


The first snowfall begins to turn grey.
A homeless guy lies across the freezing
sidewalk, hands shaking while the young cop gently asks

if he’s sick. He says he is, and the cop asks
does he want to go to the hospital.
The guy’s whole body has the shakes. Cold night

is falling, they are waiting for an ambulance
and the men working at a parking garage down the block
lean on a Toyota, curious, watching, respectful.

Poor naked wretches, cries Shakespeare’s Lear
In the voice of a man insane with grief
and indignation. Having grown up in the city,

I always thought it was poor homeless wretches.
Imagine rags as well as homelessness
on Shakespeare’s streets as the snow pelted down

and began to turn grey, like here,
but with the filth of horses, no streetlights,
probably the watchman kicking you in the balls.

Nobody believes in the kindness of New Yorkers,
but I saw the drunk stretched boldly across the width
of sidewalk, the policeman being gentle to him,

the ER squad hoisting him into the ambulance
being gentle, the men down the street
not laughing. Snow turning grey. Nobody laughing.



Major American poet and critic Alicia Ostriker has been twice nominated for a National Book Award, and is the author of fourteen volumes of poetry, including The Book of Seventy (2009), which won the Jewish Book Award for Poetry, and The Old Woman, the Tulip and the Dog, published in 2014. Ostriker’s poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Antaeus, The Nation, Poetry, American Poetry Review, Kenyon Review, The Atlantic, MS, Tikkun, and many other journals, and her work has been widely anthologized.