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World History: An Overview

North of 161st Street near 
The Park here for Yankee Stadium
Sign a graffiti artist has summarized 
The folly of the human experiment 
On a concrete bridge underpass 
She has inscribed six orange letters 
Each twelve feet tall and distended 
Like bubbles or birthday balloons 
Two words joined up as one 
OHWELL, she has written




My friend R wears gloves all summer
White with red pebbled palms
He handles boxes of fish sticks
And bags of Brussels sprouts
Every day from eight to four
When you do this job
Bare hands are frostbitten hands
Last winter, when it was nearly 
As cold outside as it is in the
Walk-in cooler where he spends 
Dozens of hours a week
A cancer grew in his wife's chest
Undetected during her annual checkup
The only doctor's visit
Their insurance plan would pay for
One morning, he told me,
She coughed up blood on her toothbrush
And they paid out of pocket
To see a specialist
By then it was too late
He flew her body to Santo Domingo
Buried her in the city of her birth
I saw him a few weeks later
He pointed to the new embroidery
Near the bill of his royal blue
Mets cap, her initials had been
Stitched in white thread
Next to the bright orange NY
His caustic wit is just now
Showing signs of a comeback  
Yesterday he pointed out his nemesis
A stooped old-timer who buys
Six big bags of ice every day
Three in the morning and three more
In the afternoon, obliging R
To lug them upstairs from the 
Basement cooler near the cold cuts
This guy, R said, this goddamned guy,
I think his beagle died and he's keeping it
In the bathtub at his apartment


Kevin Canfield is a writer in New York City. His work has appeared in Bookforum, Film Comment, Cabildo Quarterly, and other publications.