In New York long ago
When nickel coffee reigned,
Above Third Avenue
On bulky structures, stained
Rusty orange like old teeth,
The rumbled roar of the el
Flattened conversation down beneath,
An iron demon out of Hell.
Southeast a street of tranquility
Where the literary sensibility
Could graze on weathered books,
Fondle dog-eared pages,
Inhale their musty smell.
Fourth Avenue below Union Square
Was inhabited by small shops
Barricaded by long boxes on legs
Stocked with multitudes of old tomes,
Jumbled display of outcast dregs
Of private collections, printed ruminations
From obscure minds to be bought
For a mere few cents.
Dickens sat with Einstein alongside
Obscure statistics on the shape of bones
Of cretaceous creatures
That had stalked these very streets
Emitting snorts and grunts and moans.
This terminal moraine of thought
To be excavated for nuggets –
Antique volumes, odd British comic publications,
Gold stamped leather bound collections
Of men, pith helmeted, in deep explorations
Carefully depicted with fine-lined steel engravings
Plus a plethora of forgotten PhD dissertations.
Today this archipelago of print is long gone,
Eroded down to one last Strand
Where still the studious flip pages
With a searching eye, an anxious hand
Fondly recalling one of New York’s finer ages.