fulton street hustlers

by Allen Itz
Third Place, August 2007
Judged by Deborah Bogen

it’s eleven
in the morning
and you can tell
the drinkers,
in the mid-
day sun
as they cross
fulton street,
leaving their
motel room,
heading for
at one of
the dozen
taco shops
in the neigh
chorizo and
eggs with
a side of
beans, two
flour tortillas
black sludge
coffee and
six aspirin
for the head
that won’t stop
aching until
they get their
first beer,
their scrambled
eggs chaser
that officially
starts the day

mostly men,
careful with
fresh shined
boots, sharp
creased jeans
and starched
cowboy shirts
with fake pearl
pool shooters,
dart throwers,
penny tossers,
pinball wizards,
and hustlers of
most every kind,
living on the edge
always, on the edge
of losing usually,
they live on alcohol
and beer nuts,
meals at flytrap
eateries and
dark places where
the truth is only
what you can see
in a smoked bar
mirror, where pre-
tending is easier
than not

This poem breaks a lot of rules and it knows what it's doing when it does. That's a good thing because you better be on your game when you decide to dispense with capitalization and periods, and when you write in lines so short that one is "the" and another is "down-". But as soon as you start reading "fulton street hustlers" you understand that you are on a fast train meant to knock you off your reading feet, that the poem's rhythm is as purposefully offbeat as the lifestyle of the hustlers it describes with its marvelous eye for the right detail and its fluid command of the line. --Deborah Bogen