West nineteenth street.
A favorite restaurant.
On the table a double scotch.
A favorite drink.
You play with the candle,
before it flickers out:
covering a finger
and part of a spoon in wax.
The game continues
when you demand another
and it happens again.
When the food arrives,
you play with it too,
never looking up.
You make a point of pushing
the waxed beans to the side.
You scream at the busboy
la puerta esta abierta !
though the breeze feels good.
Last summer in Florence
you had the same tantrum.
With the bread pudding
you almost smile,
but the espresso is too weak.
At the next table is a birthday.
You sing along.
Outside you decide
it's a good night for a long walk.
I return to the bar.
The plan was simple. Most
adolescent plots of high crime
are. The target was Louie's
corner candy store. Easy
pickings by any standard.
Mike and the two Sals would
perform the actual crime. My
job was to be the distraction:
climb the penny candy machines
outside until Louie came to chase me.
That's when the gang would make its
move, taking whatever and as much as
it could--Snickers, Milky-Way bars, black
licorice (my favorite). One of the Sals
was addicted to red wax lips.
A week passed and everything seemed ok.
I never shared in the booty, I just did it
to be cool anyway. Then word got around
that one of the Sals had squealed. No one
knew which one. It didn't matter.
I couldn't move, having seen all of the
Dead-End movies and knowing that
the jig was up. What would my parents
think with me in reform school?
I take pride in the fact that I never ratted
out my friends. Some detectives from
headquarters (or so I imagined) grilled
me pretty good about what went on.
I stood my ground, saying only I was
messing around. I had no idea what
was going on inside. They bought it.
My record stayed clean. Mike and one
of the Sals caught the heat. The other
Sal (the rat) got off with a warning. The
next day we kicked his ass in the schoolyard.
Not too long after that he moved away, and
our gang was down to a manageable three.
Second Thoughts at a Tattoo Parlor
My uncle had one. As a child,
I would watch as he made the
letters dance up and down,
while I pressed my tiny hands
against his muscle. A sailor
in WW II, he jumped ship
to see his newborn daughter.
Then his ship was sunk
by a German destroyer--
took it in the gut, right where
my bunk was. Today my cousin
Adrienne's name adorns his
enormous left arm, while the names
of his mates are long forgotten.
Somehow I think of this
as the woman with Harley Davidson
burned across her wrist
shows me the red roses and black-blue
skulls that are the standard.
I begin to consider alternatives.
Mom would be nice, but hardly
a tribute. Girlfriend's names
are dangerous. Forget religion.
As I look around, the parlor crowd
frightens me. Do I really want
to be initiated into such a cult?
In college I went out of my way
to avoid joining a fraternity,
and all the nonsense that went with it.
On my right arm, just below
the shoulder blade, is a black mole.
Each month, a solitary black hair
extends out from this mark
as if an extra limb. I savor
this imperfection, and look forward
to the habitual plucking it requires.
In a smoking room
small brown ruddish faces
of poison ivy grins know
exactly where the free beer
is to be found.
Poor sad virgins feel left out
standing to the side
biting lips and noticing
the very high ceilings.
Continuous small talk
is hacked into soiled hankerchiefs
by unemployed denizens.
Reluctant praise fetters out
to those who labor in the dark:
serious laughing men
of Ouija board wisdom
marking territory with their words.
What is needed then is a shadow-lift
so that no one goes home alone.
In a black and white photograph
made by the hands
of a dour little man, images
peer up through broken twigs
as daylilies pander to the sun.
of faces steeped in mischief
reflect the sunlight of a lost day.
How does it feel to take the lives
of others into your hands
then submerge them
in foreign chemicals ?
Plastic trays ripple
marbled visions of childhood
with pew-damaged knees.
Beyond the obvious
seraphed faces fade.
Let Mathematics Speak
Here an epsilon for energy
or efficiency; there a capital T,
for time or temperature. And
what of Boltzmann's constant,
or have you set that equal to unity
also? There, just to the right
of an equal sign is the letter gamma,
flush with tensorial upper and
lower indices. A metric for space-time,
or merely an additive constant?
And what does it all mean? That the
speed of light in the vacuum of space
is unchanging? Even Einstein knew
that! No, your equation is much more
profound. We are consumed with
questions of Alice's wonderland,
red sunsets, messiahs. Like a sudden
hunger our mouths water for answers
of any kind. But too soon we become
homesick for what we know, and
what makes us comfortable.
We were supposed to go to one of those
superbowl parties where everyone kind of
watches the game and bets on all sorts of crazy
things, like who will score the first touchdown.
The host, whom I barely knew, told me
I was high on his invite list. Arriving late
to the chic brownstone on east nineteenth street
we somehow managed to park right in front.
Inside, the whitebread crowd looked to be the cast of
Friends hailing from places like Norwalk and Tampa.
Michelle has just published a book on expatriates
living in Tangiers ...
(Paul Bowles and William Burroughs
immediately came to mind) and other such
blurring introductions were made then just as quickly
forgotten. These were not the people I had grown up
with in south Queens, though they seemed nice enough.
I could not help but notice that the wine that guests
had brought still had price tags glued firmly above
the name of some California estate winery. There was
nothing under twenty dollars to be found. I quietly
placed my six-pack of Coors in the fridge.
After drinking a few beers I settled into the game,
which I seem to recall being a rout. I stood in a corner
near the too-warm fireplace, a bit drunk, and pretty
much unnoticed. At half-time I went into the bedroom
attracted by the showcase of books.
I really don't know you so
I don't know why I am showing this to you.
The hostess (whose name I had forgotten) was standing
over me, a black and white photograph of her sixth birthday
clenched in her hand. I watched the little girl standing
before me, transfixed in black and white time thirty-some
years ago. A smiling child with long light hair and a silly
party hat covering the top of her head. Standing next to her
were her mother and grandparents, each with scowling faces.
My father had escaped upstairs
to watch a game or something.
Her mother looked as if the hat were a vise
squeezing the life out of her body.
I am taking this to my psychiatrist so that he can see
what my childhood was all about.
I really don't know why I'm showing this to you.
I agreed that a lot of our pain as adults stems from our
parents. There was sadness as she told me (vodka was a
truth serum) that her family was fundamental Christians
and that having fun was not the thing to do. I mumbled
some words about understanding, although I really didn't.
I stared at the photo for a long time. It stared back with a
grayness that frightened me. She seemed to appreciate
this but I'm not sure. We talked a little longer, about little
things: the weather, jobs, New York.
The second half was about to begin as she took the photo
from my hand. She stared at the little girl for an instant more,
then placed it in her pocket and left the room. I watched her face
as the game progressed.....laughing and being the good little girl.
I thought her mother would have been proud, but I wasn't sure.