Oscar Kenshur



In Chicago when the light is red,
it means “Just pause, then go ahead.”
If vehicles aren’t bearing down,
No one will yell or even frown.
(One of the charms of my hometown.)

Not so where people yell in German.
To them, jaywalkers are, well, vermin…
If a street’s completely clear,
To the law one must adhere:
Six a.m. and all is quiet,
Step off the curb and start a riot.
Every local is a jurist.
Every scofflaw is a tourist.

That’s not so strange as here in France
Where streets are crossed without a glance—
At lights or cars. That is to say:
If others cross, then it’s okay.
But how can the first crosser know
That it’s all right for all to go?
He waits until a truck is coming,
Then steps in front of it while humming.
(It’s usually “La Marseillaise,”
Or else a tune by Joan Baez.)
Others saunter while he hums.
The truck’s driver twiddles his thumbs.
It makes for such a joyful scene,
Why wait until the light is green?

Oscar Kenshur was born and raised in Chicago. Except for periodic interludes abroad—including a pandemically truncated academic year in Provence—he has spent the last several decades in Bloomington, Indiana, teaching comparative literature and publishing books and articles on literary, historical and philosophical topics. More recently, he has been putting together a collection of personal essays and has tried his hand at light verse. His poems have appeared in Light and in Lighten Up Online.