Maxwell Bodenheim (1892-1954)
I just discovered the poet Maxwell Bodenheim and his fascinating biography. Born in Mississippi, Bodenheim became a prominent bohemian in Greenwich Village in the 20’s and 30’s. But his fame receded and he became a panhandler and drunkard. After the death of his second wife (and a divorce from the first), Bodenheim married Rush Fagin. They lived as homeless panhandlers. One night a 25-year-old dishwasher named Charlie Weinberg invited the couple to stay at his room near the Bowery. While Bodenheim was sleeping, Weinberg became sexually active with Ruth. Bodenheim awoke and began a scuffle with Weinberg. Weinberg ended up shooting Bodenheim and stabbing Ruth four times in the back. Here is a poem by Bodenheim:
EAST SIDE MOVING PICTURE THEATRE–SUNDAY
An old woman rubs her eyes
As though she were stroking children back to life.
A slender Jewish boy whose forehead
Is tall, and like a wind-marked wall,
Restlessly waits while leaping prayers
Clash their light-cymbals within his eyes.
And a little hunchbacked girl
Straightens her back with a slow-pulling smile.
(I am afraid to look at her again.)
Then the blurred, tawdry pictures rush across the scene,
And I hear a swishing intake of breath,
As though some band of shy rigid spirits
Were standing before their last heaven.