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Two Poems
Walking on the Lower East Side

I’m the life-sized rag doll strapped to my master’s shoes dancing salsa in subway. I’m naked in camouflage paint as a minor detail in a mural of Selena. I’m a brick from the former 5th street squat, I’m a flatten cobblestone you can’t see cuz of the tro’m poile. Look at me, I’m a white puffy cloud, and now I’m the letters of smoke from a skywriting plane. (Feb. 8-01)

Brenda, Remember your transformation into a public character and your plans to enter public space. Your design is to sell whatever the street yields, the valuables and to buy stories. 

Old Man Yearby, my grandpa, was a public character in his own grocery store with coal stove, big brass cash register and glass candy case. Inside were bon bons, horehound candy shaped like bacon strips, stick candy in a jar. He spent afternoons in a lawn chair by the meat case, cutting bologna, making onion salad in cup and swatting flies. His dog was public too. Minnie Yearby, who wore glasses, sat upright, smoked cigars, and made change. 

My whole tribe/nation of my mother’s side, my grandpa and uncles were all public (politicians) characters. They named our village after us, Yearbyville. You could just say your name and “put it on credit.” You could just say, “I’m a Yearby” and be on your way. 
      Then my parents had a country store, the Midway Market, and we went by my father’s name, we were the public Coultas’s living in full view of the school bus, doing homework and drinking pop in lawn chairs in our place of business. 

I thought marriage would be my most public act and performance or my baptism or once when I taken an oath to defend the public or when I was a girl scout pledging to do my best to honor God and my country, and once when I was in the newspaper because I was a welder and a fashion model, and then I got stalked, and once when they used to call me Puffy Coultas. 

Bum Stash: Early 21st Century

The lot had been emptied by the police/city who put up a new fence and padlock and took down the trees and crops, and replaced soil with gravel. This year some crops pushed up again. Objects returned, this time under plastic, a long low stick of furniture with nine drawers, one missing, a yellow mustard color. Someone built a lean-to of mattresses, not steady and positioned a hubcap to shelter a plant from sun. Someone collected the brass number 5, strung it on a wire, and someone added a brown chipped water pitcher.

Later observed in secret, a man with magenta hair adding objects he found on the street. I saw him sitting on a broken rowing machine and then on a broken stationary bike; the exercise equipment rested on the gravel. When he left he locked the gate with his own working lock.

Bum stash tore apart. Lean-to pushed over, same objects but did the police or the magenta man tear it all down? (May 15, 01)

Lot cleared and new gravel laid down, an orange shopping cart chained to fence. (May 25, 01).

Orange shopping cart unchained and rolled to street corner, miniature boxed pie and particle board inside basket. (2nd & 1st, June 10, 01).

Two white 70s appliances/ On one corner, washer with an oval window in the door, laundry inside w/ brown mold/ on the other corner, dryer./ No one can write much nowadays because it takes money/ in the 70s people wrote all the time, now/ we don’t have room to lay it all out, so lay parts at a time, pick them up and then lay some more/ I iron and bake that way and try to think of things to do for money/ crochet and knit/ sell blood and hair/ pick garbage for copper and aluminum. When my husband left, I thought I could start to lay it out, move it around, until an alchemy took hold. /So I laid it all out: 2 super 8s, a 35 mm, found photos, books of the Bowery, poetry, and there was lots of poetry. / Artifacts, flattened bottle caps, rusted cans, early tin cans, many interesting screws and bolts, sometimes found machines in enamel green, and sometimes, bobbins and thread. / I laid it all out/ stared at it/ moved it/ talked to myself about it/ read it all again/ waited/ nothing happened. / I put it all back. (July 27, 01, 75 E. 2nd St.)

Brenda Coultas is the author of A Lonely Cemetery and The Abolition Journal (both Coffeehouse Press).