For my father
Ah, but I was so much older then,
I’m younger than that now.
My Back Pages
Just another day of flawless clarity,
as the gray canvass tarp of the dying river
nudged the distended carcasses of rotting fish
under a sky that no one ever noticed,
and you, the hod-carrier’s middle boy,
running from the bakery to your flat,
your stolen loaves of bread still warm and soft.
Frankie and Rosario out in front
every summer night for stick ball games.
Batting once, Frankie swung and missed,
rapped you hard and broke your Roman nose,
umbo on its bridge they never fixed,
aquiline distinction embarrassing you.
You remember this with alacrity.
Memories of joining the service out of spite,
and still the old man counted your army pay.
Reaching for your wallet he’d stare at you,
condemning you for walking out on him;
his share was every penny that you earned.
Angelo was the first to mutiny,
packed whatever he possessed and left.
Retelling this you never forget his gun
inside the zipper pocket of an old suitcase.
Legends are made in dirty hotel rooms.
Men grow up to see their fathers die,
and you remember yours as strong and good,
yet years would pass before you forgave his faults.
Joey showed up drunk one Christmas Eve,
undid what little grace your family had;
nine guys couldn’t bring him down.
Every year you resurrect that tale.
Jalopy parked against the curb, you posed
under the murky light that lit the sign —
Lun On Company Chinese Grocery –
you and Dolly in each other’s arms.
And after that she brought you home to Mama.
Useless to try and hide the truth from her;
Grease-ball alley cat was all you were,
underprivileged thug who came from Front
Street’s slums. Her daughter certainly would not give
the time of day to a cross-town wop like you.
Soon enough you’d get to know her dad;
every night you’d go and find him drunk,
permanent fixture in the Red Ash Grille,
the Mayor of Albany Avenue holding court
early evenings giving in to neon,
memories that, in spite of things forgotten,
burn as if they happened yesterday,
every one a clear and perfect scene,
reminiscence that won’t abandon you.
Once there was a time that you would joke —
“CRS,” you’d laugh to all your friends,
then entire decades began to gray.
“Old Timer’s Disease? What the fuck is that?”
Behind the now of the moment we are in
each remembrance turning into dust,
reaching back to where they used to be.
No memories can return; they don’t exist.
Oh, you will always be a business man,
veracious entrepreneur of your own making
endeavoring to work with dignity,
manual labor a constant source of pride,
but nowadays the road to work is strange,
every street some exotic foreign land,
relics of the streetlights burning out.
During the day now you are in your cellar
eking out a past from yellowed photos,
collages used to trap old memories,
each one carefully cut and placed and framed.
Mid-morning you will go out in your yard;
behind your stockade fence you will take off
everything except your underwear,
rattle a bell for the animals to come,
get down feebly on your iron knees,
offering peanuts to the squirrel you’ve named,
never once thinking about the days’
evanescent trek from light to dark.