Verse > Anthologies > Hamilton Fish Armstrong, ed. > The Book of New York Verse
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Hamilton Fish Armstrong, ed.  The Book of New York Verse.  1917.
 
The East River Bridge Market
By James Oppenheim
 
THE RIVETED rafters drip the rain and the twilight pave is puddle and mud,
But the peddlers’ carts are huddled again and the crowd jams past in a woollen flood—
They weave a pattern of reds and blacks, women in shawls and men in coats,
Women who trudge with broken backs and wisps of men with bearded throats.
 
From jets cart-held the wind-tossed gas flames a shadowy fire that traces        5
Poverty’s stamp on the forms that pass, misery’s blight on the world-old faces—
Pain, that sculptor of men, has creased many a line in many a brow,
Till he, with love divine, released a splendour which is shining now.
 
For under the greys and the saffrons daubed on the ancient faces, life looks through,
Every atom of soil absorbed in the human stir and the struggle new—        10
These as by red-hot rivets are clutched to the nerve-live business thrilling the hour—
Here where the strings of the purse are touched the brain becomes a working power.
 
Where have I mixed in this scene before? In what strange world, in what strange age?
Lo, in the flesh of life’s uproar these people float from a printed page,
Rises Isaiah, Rizpah, Ruth, prophet, and woman-in-love, and mother,        15
See where Isaiah is visioning Truth as he peddles fish to Abel’s brother.
 
Worlds away and worlds behind all living worlds these souls assemble,
Rizpah there with her dead to mind, Ruth with her yearning heart a-tremble!
What to these are Wall Street’s currents of electricity circling Earth?
What to these are Broadway’s torrents of roaring work and rippling mirth?        20
 
By what nerve do these souls connect with the huge skyscraping towers of steel
That girdle Earth with their intellect, a might that world-end millions feel?
What place have these in the world we sense and glimpse in the morning paper’s print?
Lost, they are lost in a world immense, and who is aware of their strife and stint?
 
And yet America’s mightiest age shall be child of these wonderful mothers of men—        25
Each in her realm is queen and sage, and shall remake the world again—
Her babes are the masters of dim To-morrows, her daughters the wives and teachers to come,
Out of her woes and her infinite sorrows she breeds the Lincolns of the Slum.
 
Out of the simple and common clay, out of the very earth of Earth,
Now, as ever, there break away spirits that feed the world’s great dearth—        30
Take the startling gas-fire glow, stand, stand still, let me see your face!
Mother, that your strange heart might know you are the fount of a future race!
 
 
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