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Water Heater, 18Th St


ISSUE:  Spring 1991
In a half cellar, dim, with a dirt floor
wet from sewage and a bad water heater,
one smell, sharper than the rest,
wrinkles the nose of the plumber.
Teeth grind, the scalp tingles,
he waves a pipe wrench at the frozen rat
and steps boldly again. Pipes cut, he
drags the old heater up block steps to the alley
while the sun drops behind charred row houses,
their walls opened, staircases, bannisters
leading to rose papered sleeping rooms.
Two men stop him, offer sockets,
ladders, drills, cheap. Silent,
he removes a pipe from the heater, then
turns on them, swings it, cursing through his teeth.
They run, sliding in the icy alley,
shouting, “Crazy son of a bitch,”
and vanish behind the row houses.
He leans the heater against the dumpster,
grips the rusty bottom and heaves it in.

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