Austin Segrest

Sleeves

 

Downstairs in the basement where the aisles
of remaindered and review copies rambled
and the foreign language section crumbled
like the tower of Babel, us less presentables

stacked and shelved among the mold. This one guy,
Devin, had a big, slow, yellowing smile
and black eyes that glittered before I knew
how to use the word glitter, and after awhile—

really after a decade I realize
his skin was a translucent, subterranean
gray, newt-gray. He had a penchant for western
shirts with kitschy stitching—a climbing rose

or cactus. Even in the roach-eaten days
of August, with no a/c and New Yorkers
barking at your back, he wore sleeves,
did elaborately little, while other workers

took the big jobs packing or unpacking.
When pressed into service for his reach,
his long guitarist fingers sliding each
book cleanly by its spine, never breaking

a full sweat, he just looked more and more
like wax. Why keep this up? Devin
was on smack, a corpse, and before
they pulled him out of the canal, everyone

but me had seen it. I didn't know
enough not to get close. His sloped shoulders,
long nails, his vanishing for hours
while I covered for him, shelving Shinto

poets from piles that never went away—
none of it disturbed the pool of his voice.
Where I stayed at in Red Hook, giant blue
barge cranes repeated along, dock, dock, goose.

I'd walk the bulwarks of five-block warehouses
and never see a soul: bleached gull colonies,
concrete acreage, and green as antifreeze
crept the long canal they called Gawanus—

blown vein shunted off the harbor. And I
left before the summer ended, before
the towers dropped, I left but still think how
Michael, or Chris, the night manager,

or any of those old hands, how they must
have seen me shadow Devin, must have seen
me shelve in Devin's shadow, and known
we wouldn't either of us last.