This Greek in his shop
Stands guard for me, I sleep for him.
Together we endure the night.
–Paul Zweig, “Stanzas in an Emergency”
My customers are real characters, some of them.
That’s no surprise.
But this one disheveled Jew? He writes
the screenplay, I think. You should see him.
He sleepwalks in here at 2:00 a.m.
and stands in front of the import bins — star fruits
& mangosteens — with his head cocked to the side.
Can I help you, sir, I’ll call out
when I can’t stand it anymore
& he looks over & grins — great big smile.
Paul, my friend, you already have, he says.
He likes the fact that we have the same first name.
The next morning he’s in here again, 8:00 o’clock,
for a loaf of fresh bread.
He might have big dark bags under his eyes
but he’s looking happy now, as if
he can hardly contain himself.
Like a man with a secret: sometimes it feels heavy,
sometimes it’s light.
His wife is French, he tells me once, the bread’s for her.
Another time, just as he’s handing me the money,
he stops & runs his finger through
the parallel slashes in the crust.
If it’s going in the oven anyway, he says,
why do they cut it like this?
It’ll split one way or the other, Paul, I say.
All we can do is tell it where.