I took the Rue Battant because it was the shortest way
to school, even though everyone said to watch out for the borgne,
the one-eyed man who lived there for years.
He squatted in a tin-roofed shanty like a troll,
staking claim – legal claim, they said-
to the dull dust of a urban vacant lot.
There he kept a small garden,
sentineled with sunflowers.
sometimes surrounded by the skeletons of rusty bicycles,
or the carcass of a Moped.
Perhaps he was harmless.
As I rushed by, I would keep my head down.
staring at the flopping tassels of my good black shoes
and gripping my bookbag until my knuckles paled.
Even if I weren’t running late, I’d elongate my stride like a cartoon tiger.
The street mostly belonged to the petite bourgeoisie:
the coiffeur, the tobacconist, the barrister with the polished brass doorknocker.
But the borgne endured.
He boiled cabbage on a Butane stove, and the thick smells
of fuel and mustard
seeped into the pavers of the sidewalk,
etched their way into the city stones.
His woman changed from time to time, but there was
always a child crying, diaper-less,
its little zizi
hanging down red and raw like a shrimp.
I would try not to look.