Winter 2013 - THE POTOMAC

Two Poems

   Joe Benevento

After The Neighborhood Started to Change

                        When I was five it was all white on our block, until
                        the Prathers moved in, blacks to me less strange
                        than the immigrant McCloskeys presuming
                        to call them spooks or skels, moving their Irish accents
                        further east on Long Island once they started to feel outnumbered.
                        All those German, Irish, Polish kids wrapping
                        Wop and Guinea around me, helped me prefer
                        each new black or Latino on the block, to the point
                        where I only had minority friends, with whom I was secure
                        from whites too timid to mess with us.

                        And so I ranged puberty crushed over Puerto Rican
                        Zoraida, Sylvia, Creole Hallene, instead of blue-eyed
                        Beths, Marilyns or Margarets.  I the only white
                        in a black singing group, the only Caucasian in the house
                        of hundreds at the occasional Baptist church or back-

                        to-some-black-part of Brooklyn gig.  I the only blanco
                        messing with merengue at some salsa-only set,
                        way out of rhythm but learning the words mejor
                         y mejor, until the time when the older white folks
                        couldn’t pick me out of the line-up of minority

                        teens they feared being mugged by, until all
                        the white kids still left  thought I was at least a little weird,
                        until the new arriving brothers and hermanas were all left wondering
                        what this cracker thought he was doing hanging with their people,
                        until I eventually grew up, found myself stuck in the small town Midwest,

                        where everything is mostly all white again, even me.


After Sylvia Ramos Read My Latest Book of Poems

                                    the one that made my wife livid,
                                    presenting as it does the habitual
                                    wringing of my hands over
                                    old fires, Sylvia never absent
                                    from my inventory of might-have-beens,

                                    a woman I’ve known since childhood
                                    who rejected me with doe-eyed ease when
                                    we were teens, but who has since enjoyed,
                                    even encouraged, my literary feints
                                    at infidelity these long years since.

                                    Now Sylvia sends an email from Puerto Rico crying
                                    foul over this latest poem’s documenting
                                    of her many marriages, explaining how it is
                                    hurtful to her, making her unable to share
                                    the book with her child,

                                    as if her twenty-something daughter does not know
                                    she came to light during her mother’s brief time
                                    with marido número tres, as if Sylvia
                                    isn’t smart enough to imagine
                                    all the trouble versifying the truth about how

                                    she still makes meaning in my life has
                                    caused some woman she’s never met,
                                    as if just upon request
                                    I can ever stop thinking
                                    or writing about Sylvia Ramos the woman
                                   a symbol, a flame only the end of poetry can extinguish.

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