When Italian-American Grandmothers Rule the World
(For Nancy Pelosi)
Weapon-like glares are fired in the direction
of those who dare
to put their elbows on the table.
Everybody gets a chance to talk,
be heard and eat and eat and eat and eat.
When the men's stomachs are sufficiently filled,
the women gather in the den and unhook their bras;
talk about their kids or watch in arrested-heart delight
as John Travolta dances the night way with Karen Lynn Gorney
on TV. Smelling of garlic and Chianti,
the old Neapolitans who still curse Mussolini
clear the table with their knotted hands;
wash the good china and silverware,
while Grandmother always prepares the next course.
When it's ready, she calls everyone back
to the dining room,
and the women peel themselves off
the rearranged furniture of power,
still wrapped in plastic.
Smoking in the Boys’ Room
That was the summer our California-based President lost his memory
in front of a nationally televised audience. Nikki Sixx
guitar solos merged with the purring
of Larry Heller’s Duster next door.
John Ferrara, my day camp counselor, warned,
“No hard-ons allowed.”
Two days later, after making the final out of a softball game,
I walked into the men’s room:
Larry’s head was between John’s legs.
I had to cough, but held it off until I snuck out.
John’s nasal endearments slicked the bathroom windows
and drowned in the grass.
On the Last Day of the Republic Arena Flea Market - Commack, New York
I fight my way through the sizzle
of grilled burgers and hot dogs,
these consonants of delicious precision
for the cheap seats of my mouth.
As I look up, a light bulb falls from its socket.
No one is hurt.
The scoreboard is emptier,
but the other bulbs hang their heads,
as if in prayer.
I see the stripes and stars of an American flag,
tattered at the edges like a contract,
half of it bathed in darkness, hanging
from the rafters.
Paul Ilnitski, my sister’s ex-boyfriend,
whose breath reeked of pickle juice,
used to work at the taco stand.
He’s here today, walking with his son
in the aisles of the mezzanine seats;
they whisper their legacy
to all who walk past them: “Spare parts.”
The chatter of two old men grabs my attention.
They are both tall, but one has a beer-gut.
The other is lanky as a telephone pole.
Lanky’s voice bellows, for a moment all I can hear is
“Who watches a wrecking ball to watch a wrecking ball?”
I drop my car keys as Paul yells hello to me.
I wave back; zip up my jacket and go;
stopping only to tie my shoe.
My feet are a pair of rusty blades
sidestepping the shards of light bulb glass:
the lost teeth of yearning.