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Once

 Hungry and cold, I stood in a doorway
on Delancey Street in 1946
as the rain came down.
The worst part is this is not from a bad movie.
I'd read Dos Passos' USA and thought, "Before the night ends my life will change.
" A stranger would stop to ask for my help, a single stranger more needy than I, if such a woman were possible.
I still had cigarettes, damp matches, and an inaccurate map of Manhattan in my head, and the change from the one $20 traveler's check I'd cashed in a dairy restaurant where the amazed owner actually proclaimed to the busy heads, "They got Jews in Detroit!" You can forgive the night.
No one else was dumb enough to be out.
Sure, it was Easter.
Was I expecting crocus and lilac to burst from the pavement and sweeten the air the way they did in Michigan once upon a time? This wouldn't be so bad if you were only young once.
Once would be fine.
You stand out in the rain once and get wet expecting to enter fiction.
You huddle under the Williamsburg Bridge posing for Life.
You trek to the Owl Hotel to lie awake in a room the size of a cat box and smell the dawn as it leaks under the shade with the damp welcome you deserve.
Just the once you earn your doctorate in mismanagement.
So I was eighteen, once, fifty years ago, a kid from a small town with big ideas.
Gatsby said if Detroit is your idea of a small town you need another idea, and I needed several.
I retied my shoes, washed my face, brushed my teeth with a furry tongue, counted out my $11.
80 on the broken bed, and decided the time had come to mature.
How else can I explain voting for Adlai Stevenson once and once again, planting a lemon tree in hard pan, loaning my Charlie Parker 78s to an out-of-work actor, eating pork loin barbecued on Passover, tangoing perfectly without music even with you?

Poem by Philip Levine
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