CHAPTER VI

THE BALLAD OF CHRISTOPHER STREET

"Is it still here, I wonder, down in Christopher Street,
That little rickety house of ours where life was sweet?"
No, my dear, they've torn it down, a year and a day ago;
There's nothing there but an empty loft where the purple burdocks grow.
The wreckers came, and spat on their hands, and gave it a final thrust,
And the roof fell into the cellar, and the walls went up in dust!
The boys have carried away the boards to kindle their mothers' fires,
And over the moldering fragments creep burdocks and briers.
So it will stay for a year and a day: and then some morning soon,
Builders will come, with riveters, and rivet loud till noon,
And call it a day, and go away, leaving against the sky
A great brand-new apartment building fourteen stories high.

And women with dogs, and men with cars, will quarrel and sleep and eat,
After the fashion of their kind, at Eleven Chrisopher Street.
For the days that we knew are dead, my dear, and never in all time's turning
Shall there burn in the hearts of Christopher Street the fires that we felt burning
When in that little house of ours life stayed young and sweet
Though all the world was bitter-black outside of Christopher Street,
And those four rickety walls of ours gave love and kindness room
When all mankind was mad and blind and raging to its doom!

O, in that big apartment building up against the sky
There'll be lovers, lovers, lovers -- never you and I!
It will not matter to them in the least, if out of the dust and grime
Impossible beauty flamed and flowered, once upon a time!
If a boy and a girl for a year and a day laughed bravely at despair,
No one will know in Christopher Street, and certainly none will care.
But you and I, shall we ever forget, till our hearts forget to beat,
The year and a day of life in flower that we had in Christopher Street?

Wakened by the jingling-harnessed, trampling teams from next door's stable,
Lingering late in happy laughter over the bright breakfast table,
Sharing every secret fancy, finding courage and delight
In each other's jests and kisses, sitting up all hours of night
In deep talk before the fireplace -- happy that we could remember
One more lovely story always to outlast the final ember!
The kisses in the darkness, laughter in the night,
And a white moon rising over the roofs to look on our delight!
Blood-madness was upon mankind: two sane ones, you and I
Could laugh and talk and dream, and let the legions thunder by!
All that was ever good in life, all that was ever sweet,
Kept house with us for a year and a day in Eleven Christopher Street.

A painted cupboard on the wall, colored cups and dishes --
Tulip-garden crockery to match our happiest wishes! --
A Japanese print, and a candlestick, with candles burning bright,
Curtain-folds of sunny gold at windows left and right,
A couch with tattered tapestry, a cigarette-scarred table,
A view from either window of an alley and a stable,
Ash-trays scattered round about in all the likely nooks,
And everywhere, on shelf and chair -- books, books, books!
Brave poetry, radiant science, mockery's gayest flights,
Books full of rebel courage and wisdoms and delights --
Though all the world was loud with lies, and guns boomed down the truth,
They spoke the things that none might speak to the listening mind of youth,
They told the truth of an evil time to a lonely girl and boy,
Saying: Be scornful of the world, but have no scorn of joy!

So they spoke in the little house by flickering candle flame
To a brave-browed girl with dancing eyes and a boy that bore my name.
With books and dishes, fire and a bed, the heart's deep needs were there --
A garden it was, and a palace, and a fortress against despair!

I remember the way we found it, when our love was fire-new,
And we were troubled, and bold, and shy, wondering what to do;
Night after night we had walked the streets, through blasts of wind and snow,
Wanting a place to call our own, a roof to sleep below --
And some folks thought it funny, and laughed aloud to spy
Huddling close in doorways, two lovers, you and I!
Pooling our desperate fortunes, all we could scrape together,
We sought to find our love four walls against the bitter weather;
We only hoped for an eyrie high over the street's abyss,
A room for two, where we'd have the right to laugh and talk and kiss;

Ah! happy the chance that led us, at least with tired feet,
Across the snowy door-sill of Eleven Chistopher Street.
We stood by the little fireplace, and in each other's eyes
We watched the bright tears welling up in wonder and surprise.
Here we knew was a home for us, and not for us too narrow --
We furnished the place from junk-shop quick and moved in a big wheelbarrow!
And I tacked up my Japanese print, while you, with your candles lit,
Sat on the tattered-tapestried couch and laughed for the joy of it.
The logs were ablaze in the fireplace, the coffee was bubbling in the pot,
And your eyes in the mellow candle-light some new radiance got.
Soon you knelt to tend the fire, and I glimpsed through a half-shut door
Your dresses flung across a chair, your slippers on the floor.
And so may all dear lovers that are starved for love's delight
Find rest and peace, and food and fire, and a kind bed at night!

In that big apartment building underneath the moon,
Something of our love may linger, like a ghostly tune;
Troubled wives will wake at midnight, hearing from the rafter
Thin and faint, the silver echoes of delicious laughter.
At these glimmering hints and shadowings of our lost delight
They will frown and they will wonder, in the haunted night;
Tossing on their pillows while the midnight minutes creep,
They will think about love, a little -- and then go back to sleep.
And over their lawful slumbers, in silvery disdain,
Your airy mocking laughter will chime through the night again.
For who would ever have dared to dream, in the days that were so sweet,
That love could be dull and expensive at Eleven Christopher Street!

(Oh, it's little we asked of the niggard fates that ruled our vagabond life --
Only a time for tenderness out of the bitter strife!
The endless burgeonings of love, its calm perenial flowers,
We might not claim, in a world like this, for driven hearts like ours;
Rash, rebel children of our time, wild lovers of lost truth,
We might not make the immemorial promises of youth --
Yet we believed that ours was love, so sweet it was and gay,
The passionate, kind comradeship that we had for a year and a day!
No -- it wasn't the prosperous love that builds men's cities and makes men's wars,
But it gave peace to a lonely two beneath the eternal stars.
And the loud, proud makers of cities and wars, when they have counted the cost,
Shall they dare to call this love of ours too lawless and too lost?)

It stands no more in the sight of men, in the traffic's roar and beat,
The little rickety house of ours where life was young and sweet;
There's nothing left but an empty lot, and a stray board, and a brick,
And -- you've the Japanese print, my dear, and I've the candlestick;

The world is wide, with many a path that's pleasant to the feet,
But none that will ever turn back again to Eleven Christopher Street;
Time has triumphed, and earth's deep dust has claimed its ancient right
To be enriched with our memories of laughter and delight;
There's nothing to do, there's nothing to say -- except that life was sweet
To a boy and a girl for a year and a day in Eleven Christopher Street.





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