Edwin Rolfe, "Season of Death"

This is the sixth winter:
this is the season of death
when lungs contract and the breath of homeless men
freezes on restaurant window panes---men seeking
the sight of rare food
before the head is lowered into the upturned collar
and the shoulders haunched and the shuffling feet
move away slowly, slowly disappear
into a darkened street.

This is the season when rents go up:
men die, and their dying is casual.
"Crowds around post office. Lower East Side, New York," by Dorothea Lange 1936
REPOSITORY: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

I walk along a street, returning
at midnight from my unit. Meet a man
leaning against an illumined wall
and ask him for a light.
His open eyes
stay fixed on mine. And cold rain falling
trickles down his nose, his chin.
"Buddy," I begin...and look more closely--
and flee in horror from the corpse's grin.

The eyes pursue you even in sleep and
when you awake they stare at your from the ceiling;
you see the dead face peering from your shoes;
the eggs at Thompson's are the dead man's eyes.
Work dims them for eight hours, but then--
the machines silent--they appear again.

Along the docks, in the terminals, in the subway, on the street,
in restaurants--the eyes
are focused from the river
among the floating garbage
that other men fish for,
their hands around poles
almost in prayer--
wanting to live,
wanting to live!
who also soon
will stand propped by death against a stone-cold wall.

(1935)