Winter cabbages blooming in pots
In front of banks and restaurants,
The fashion in Berkeley, itís just like New York,
The world grows smaller and more reassuring,
All this purple and green leafiness
To supplement brokers and panhandlers,
Or do I merely mean more ornamental
While far less reassuring? Now I watch
The delivery man from the bakery van
Flirt with a fellow at the corner table
of the Caffe Strada, once the Mediterranean.
--Hey, werenít you going to talk to me?
--Sure, I thought you were delivering.
The van man sports a torn sweatshirt, grey
Dirt on his cheekbone, a greying Errol Flynn
Mustache, and witty mannerisms
Half homoerotic, half old jock.
The grad student, with chiseled cleancut Frank Merriwell
Features and a massive Saint Bernard
Solid and calm as library paneling
Strolling remotely among the tables,
Is wealthier and younger, therefore used
To being the object of resentful flirtation
To which he responds with good manners
As he was bred; including a slight edge.
Younger man--Youíve kept your weight down.
Older man--Iím still the stud I was.
Hey, is that your dog?
(Said intermittently with a variety
of inflections.--Hey, is that your dog?
Hey, is that your dog? Is that your dog?)
Youth slips a glance of resignation
Across the round table at his companion,
Another clean youngster, who just at present
Is concentrating on his croissant and napkin.
The van man grins to show his canine teeth
And try another cadence.
--Buddy, can I buy your dog?

© 1995, Alicia Ostriker

Alicia Ostrikerís most recent books of poetry are The Imaginary Lover (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1986) and Green Age (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1989). "Berkeley: Youth and Age" will appear in her next volume, The Crack in Everything, forthcoming from Pittsburgh in Spring 1996. Ostriker is also the author of Stealing the Language: the Emergence of Womenís Poetry in America (Beacon, 1986), and The Nakedness of the Fathers: Biblical Visions and Revisions(Rutgers University Press, 1994). She teaches English and Creative Writing at Rutgers University.