for my father
We wore fedora hats
and ate nickel sandwiches,
and pitched copper pennies.
We worked all day, dreamed
of marrying saints and after
hours ran straight up to Harlem.
It was a good time to be a man,
a good time to know your way
around the block and a dollar.
Once you knew who lived where
and why you had friends
for life and rules to live by.
Bright Eyes owned the bar on
President Street. He only let his
sister in after hours. Even with a mop
in her hands she smelled like chocolate
and flowers and made you dream
about her dress on a hanger.
The war was still a world away
and Brooklyn still a world of its own.
Friday nights we’d take the train to
Ebbets Field or maybe split a cab
to Coney Island. From the top of
the Steeple Chase you could fly across
Queens, or scratch your back on
the Empire State Building.
Only the Rockefellers and Vanderbilts
were rich. The rest of us shuffled
ends and means, drove our trucks,
stitched our seams and gave our ears
and our pay to Mr. Roosevelt’s plans.
“I like his voice,” Bright Eyes’ sister
said, wiping her hands on the back
of her jeans. Not much for politics,
I stared anyway. The right girl could
change your mind about anything.
Man on Ocean Park Boulevard Talking to a Parking Meter
Destiny, perhaps, or just good luck
took the yellow light to red and brought me
to a stop at the corner of Ocean Park and 23rd.
At first, I thought what I heard was coming
from another car—the usual hip-hop rap.
But then I saw him at the curb, talking to
the meter in front of the laundromat.
So I pulled over just to be sure he wasn’t
another cell phone exhibitionist bore.
No, this was a stifled soul, an undermined heart
with something to say. It’s no secret there’s
enough to rant about these days and so few
ears truly listening. So I tried to listen
or at least overhear, mindful of times I’ve grilled
ghosts of my own with no one else there.
But his voice was garbled by traffic noise.
From his face I had to make my best guess.
My own stifled soul saw a man on a mission
for all of us, asking, How much time is left?
published in “Boulevard”
Pleasing the Dog
For once in this lifetime,
I know all the right spots;
just behind the ear where
her curls change color,
the down slope of her chest
just above the belly.
No fumbling with misread
cues, she throws herself on
my side of the bed, nudges
my hand to let me know it’s time.
And I oblige, though not before
reminding her all pleasure is
fleeting, that even the fiercest
of love has its limits. As usual,
she’s bored by my protests,
certain even as I ferry her
to her bed on the floor, even
as my wife takes her place
and turns out the light,
that I am the one whose
affection will not fail:
the one true love who will
always be there with a gentle
hand, a strong arm and a
red rubber ball.