Florida International University Poetry Prize, 2016

Before Snowfall

by Ariel Francisco

French has no word for home.
-Jack Gilbert


I found Baudelaire on a street corner
near Washington Square Park for two dollars
on a flimsy table littered with orphaned books:

a faded, cracked paperback, lavender
as the lingering winter evening that draped
the skyline like a dust jacket, and small enough

to squeeze into a standard sized envelope,
which I did, after scribbling a little note
on the inside cover to a girl back home.

She never got the book, which was in French,
and we never spoke again in any language,
though I always wondered what happened

to the book, probably lost in the dead letter office,
that mass grave of undelivered letters,
moldy packages, and illegible birthday cards.

Still, when winter arrives every year like a janitor
to sweep the fallen leaves, and I’m reminded
of what is lost, I like to imagine

a homeless man fishing my envelope
out of that dropbox on Broadway
before the mailman gets to it,

digging for Christmas cards from grandma
stuffed with cash for her favorite grandkid,
and instead finding Baudelaire.

He clutches the book with ungloved hands
slumping down against the dropbox
in resignation, and flips it open

to my little note, which simply says
tell me, is the snow coming down
on you too?  And I imagine him looking up,

his gaze tracing the skyline until it reaches
the grey horizon, thinking of all the nowheres
to go to lay his head down tonight,

saying out loud:
Not yet my friend.  Thank goodness,
not yet.

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