A Pushcart at the Curb by John Dos Passos

A Pushcart at the Curb


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subjects: Poetry

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Passos’ only collection of poetry, many of these poems were published in periodicals in 1921/22, though some were composed as early as 1916. George H. Doran published A Pushcart at the Curb on October 11, 1922. There was no subsequent edition.

66 pages, with a reading time of ~1.25 hours (16,578 words), and first published in 1922. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, .

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The promiscuous wind wafts idly from the quays
A smell of ships and curious woods and casks
And a sweetness from the gorse on the flowerstand
And brushes with his cool careless cheek the cheeks
Of those on the street; mine, an old gnarled man's,
The powdered cheeks of the girl who with faded eyes
Stands in the shadow; a sailor's scarred brown cheeks,
And a little child's, who walks along whispering
To her sufficient self.
                        O promiscuous wind.



A long grey street with balconies.
Above the gingercolored grocer's shop
trail pink geraniums
and further up a striped mattress
hangs from a window
and the little wooden cage
of a goldfinch.

Four blind men wabble down the street
with careful steps on the rounded cobbles
scraping with violin and flute
the interment of a tune.

People gather:
women with market-baskets
stuffed with green vegetables,
men with blankets on their shoulders
and brown sunwrinkled faces.

Pipe the flutes, squeak the violins;
four blind men in a row
at the interment of a tune … 
But on the plate
coppers clink
round brown pennies
a merry music at the funeral,
penny swigs of wine
penny gulps of gin
peanuts and hot roast potatoes
red disks of sausage
tripe steaming in the corner shop … 

And overhead
the sympathetic finch
chirps and trills

                            _Calle de Toledo, Madrid_


A boy with rolled up shirtsleeves
turns the handle.
Grind, grind.
The black sphere whirls
above a charcoal fire.
Grind, grind.
The boy sweats and grits his teeth and turns
while a man blows up the coals.
Grind, grind.
Thicker comes the blue curling smoke,
the moka-scented smoke
heavy with early morning
and the awakening city
with click-clack click-clack on the cobblestones
and the young winter sunshine
advancing inquisitively
across the black and white tiles of my bedroom floor.
Grind, grind.
The coffee is done.
The boy rubs his arms and yawns,
and the sphere and the furnace are trundled away
to be set up at another café.

A poor devil
whose dirty ashen white body shows through his rags
sniffs sensually
with dilated nostrils
the heavy coffee-fragrant smoke,
and turns to sleep again
in the feeble sunlight of the greystone steps.

                            _Calle Espoz y Mina_


Women are selling tuberoses in the square,
and sombre-tinted wreaths
stiffly twined and crinkly
for this is the day of the dead.

Women are selling tuberoses in the square.
Their velvet odor fills the street
somehow stills the tramp of feet;
for this is the day of the dead.

Their presence is heavy about us
like the velvet black scent of the flowers:
incense of pompous interments,
patter of monastic feet,
drone of masses drowsily said
for the thronging dead.

Women are selling tuberoses in the square
to cover the tombs of the envious dead
and shroud them again in the lethean scent
lest the dead should remember.

                            _Difuntos; Madrid_


Above the scuffling footsteps of crowds
the clang of trams
the shouts of newsboys
the stridence of wheels,
very calm,
floats the sudden trill of a pipe
three silvery upward notes
wistfully quavering,
notes a Thessalian shepherd might have blown
to call his sheep
in the emerald shade
of Tempe,
notes that might have waked the mad women sleeping
among pinecones in the hills
and stung them to headlong joy
of the presence of their mad Iacchos,
notes like the glint of sun
making jaunty the dark waves of Tempe.

In the street an old man is passing
wrapped in a dun brown mantle
blowing with bearded lips on a shining panpipe
while he trundles before him
a grindstone.

The scissors grinder.

                            _Calle Espoz y Mina_


Rain slants on an empty square.

Across the expanse of cobbles
rides an old shawl-muffled woman
black on a donkey with pert ears
that places carefully
his tiny sharp hoofs
as if the cobbles were eggs.
The paniers are full
of bright green lettuces
and purple cabbages,
and shining red bellshaped peppers,
dripping, shining, a band in marchtime,
in the grey rain,
in the grey city.