Dead Man

By Mark Burgh

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St. Mark’s Place at dawn, trash blown, summer light’s perfect clarity so good for artists, wasted here. Lower Manhattan, brick walls remain, black-painted window sills. Somehow I thought the old world hanging on here had some right to peace, even if then or now, there was no peace. From Alphabet City I walk, young enough to be thrilled about it.  He lay: rags, or a bag of trash.  But a gray-brown face. But black pants, legs bent, shoes gone, one foot bare. I crossed the street. He looked asleep, but something lay too still.  The street rose up around him, a pavement’s song, linear harmony, dun and straight. I saw death,  & dancing toward the Village, I wondered what this conversation meant: am an urn to filled with flecks of ash, broken centuries later on the floor of sea amid rotten keels, home of colored fish, or, a funnel for all senses, piling cryptic lines like off-kilter bricks in a sagging building? Beneath the arch, later, I ate a roll, drank coffee. Let the pinwheels whir. Nothing crosses my mind about this dead man. I don’t know dead men, eyes open to sky like prophets.  I do know what dry bread requires: butter.

Mark Burgh

Author’s Note:

“Dead Man” comes from a real life experience of mine while attending Film School at New York University in 1987.  I’ve been thinking about this memory for many years and wanted to reflect the scene, the season and impact of seeing a body on the streets of New York.