waverly avenue

by Betty H. Neals

Image: New York Public Library
Image: New York Public Library

Just a panorama
down a city street!
A wagon vendor
(the poor folk’s auctioneer),
odd children playing,
skipping here and there
on Waverly Avenue.

                          Small trade stores;
                          confectionaries;
                          grills displayed with meat
                          caked on the stick;
                          houses two by two;
                          a hybrid tree;
                          a beauty shop;
                          a funeral home
                          separated by the cobblestones.

When wagon wheels roll over broken cobblestones
the poor folk’s auctioneer’s low tones combine,
to make a music of their own:

                          “Apples red and sweet potatoes,
                          Collard greens and red tomatoes,
                          32, 16, 29, 2 ! 32, 16, 29, 2 !
                          Clip-pity clop, clip-pity clop,
                          Clip-pity clop, clip-pity clop.”
                          “16 cents per pound (to one)
                          29 cents two pounds (to one)
                          32 cents two pounds (to two)
                          What can Big Apple do for you?”
                          Clip-pity clop, clip-pity clop,
                          Clippity, clippity, clippity clop.

Just a panorama
down a city street!
A wagon vendor
(the poor folk’s auctioneer),
odd children playing,
skipping here and there
on Waverly Avenue.

                          Two children come
                          directly after school
                          ’bout twice a month.
                          Auctioneer comes by along about that time.
                          The two kids play some game about a line.
                          Two children pass the beauty shop.
                          Beautician glances up, but does not stop.
                          Pedantically, she mocks them at their game:
                          “‘A line unstepped upon brings wealth and fame.’
                          “There they come! Lord, look here!
                          Skipping over lines pass the auctioneer.
                          She’s grabbing on the rail, eh?
                          I think she’s kind of scared.
                          You watch and see. He’ll take her hand.
                          She’ll straighten up her head.

                          ’Bout the time the auctioneer’s through
                          they’ll be finished grieving, too.
                          Tell me they look around, then sign their name.
                          Then burst into tears, just all in vain.

                          “That sign above the door don’t seem to bother them.
                          Seems like they read it, ‘Funeral Home – Drop in.’
                          “… How old?… I think she’s eight… he’s ten.
                          “Lord, they sure have plenty folks to die, Ha!
                          I just don’t understand it! Why? Ha!
                          Seems like fear would make those children turn and run.
                          Can’t see how watching dead folks could be fun.”

Just a panorama
down a city street!
A wagon vendor
(the poor folk’s auctioneer),
odd children playing,
skipping here and there
on Waverly Avenue.

                          Clip-pity clop, clip-pity clop;
                          Auctioneer’s timing’s just like a clock.

                          The children close the door behind them.
                          They tiptoe down the stairs,
                          exchange a quick knowing smile,
                          dry their tears, continue their game.
                          “A line unstepped upon brings wealth and fame.”

                          The beautician, halfway looking through the glass,
                          throws her head back and laughs
                          puts down the curling iron,
                          hops with a shimmy
                          as if she saw that line:
                          “Tell you how I’d have played that game,
                          Just wealth, wealth, wealth!
                          No fame, fame, fame!”

                          The customers laughed and cheered.
                          And as the auctioneer appeared,
                          The horses tapped out, “clip-pity clop.”
                          The beautician yelled to him:
                          “Auctioneer, stop!”

                          Auctioneer sings:
                          “32, 16; 16, 1;
                          Everything is just about gone.

                          “Apples, Lady? Weigh them out and see.
                          They cost 29, you got 26, that makes minus three.”

                          “To make this bargain even,
                          Suppose I take out one.”
                          The auctioneer nods in agreement
                          as he yells out, “GONE!”
                          She handed him the apple.
                          The children go on playing.
                          When wagon wheels roll over broken cobblestones,
                          The poor folk’s auctioneer’s low tones,
                          combine to make a music of their own.

Just a panorama
down a city street!
A wagon vendor
(the poor folk’s auctioneer)
odd children playing,
skipping here and there
on Waverly Avenue.

This 1973 poem by Newark native Betty Neals appeared in her collection Move the Air. Waverly Avenue was renamed Muhammad Ali Avenue in 1978.

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2 thoughts on “waverly avenue

  1. Wonderful poem; it paints a picture of living in Newark that many have forgotten. I thoroughly enjoyed how it makes you feel as if you were “there”.

    Like

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