So I'm waiting outside for a friend
in front of a Little Italy trattoria,
sweaty in blue jeans and a t-shirt,
and the tuxedoed maitre d' is chewing gum,
tinny and loud, mouth wide open, talking up
passers-by in vain between smacks,
and the macho sunburnt man beside him,
fidgety and impatient, wafting cologne
from his turquoise Fila workout suit,
takes hold of his nosehairs with both hands,
pausing for a good grip, then yanks
and winces with teary-eyed glances
at his crop, wipes it on his thighs,
and I suddenly feel a tingly itch
beneath my balls, turgid and wet
from what I think are mosquito bites,
and scratch there, hard, sniffing
my hand as it passes my face.
So there we are: restaurateur, mob goon,
and poet, and I want to tell the gumsmacker
my extended Catholic family has come
to eat his garlicky pasta,
and I want to tell the nosehair-picker
my father is a member of the Teamsters,
and I feel they are telling me,
the brute significance of all of us standing there
on a warm Sunday evening
when the world decelerates enough
to ponder such generic, understood things:
we all smell the same scents, chew
the same earthy stuff, pluck
from the same meaty vellum,
and my friend will pull up to the corner,
and the tables will fill up regardless,
and the indebted will show up and be persuaded to
Lines About My Neighbors
With a Proverb
Proverbs 6: 6-9
My next-door neighbors weren't Russian
but should have been. Water was always boiling.
The mother, June Dunkerly, whose real name
was in fact long and Slavic, full of
slanted consonants that hurt my mouth,
sprayed down her lawn on dark cloudy nights,
as if only she and her hose
could herald the doom outside.
This redundancy didn't seem to bother me.
I was a lazy and dumb kid,
the dumbest really, compounded
with images of being the Christ child.
This was an idle time in our country
when teenagers stalked intersections in wide ties,
threw rocks at each other
and kicked my ankles in front of crowds.
I read Proverbs from small booklets
to make sense of this at ten, Ecclesiastes
at eleven. I cried every day
from the top of my apple tree, plucking
half-ripe fruit, perched in the crotch of my world;
I kneeled on a piece of wood
nailed into a branch, a rain-soaked
rug fragment on top. June whistled
through my pitiful sobbing. Her four kids
were these robotic things, younger than me,
hyperactive in their bowl cuts, chanting ABC's
in unison, jumping around, rattling
the backyard fence. I threw smushy cores
at their heads. Maybe a yellow kite
cackled from the gray ice clouds above me.
Maybe a home run baseball fell into the wet
And June just kept watering her grass.
And at night the Dunkerlys sang,
out loud and off-key, and the skinny father
drove their van home
from a mysterious white-collar job
and walked into their steamy dining room,
all the lights on, as if their backyard
was some joyous gulag, miles from mine.
Go to the ant, you slaggard. Consider her ways,
and be wise; which, having no guide,
overseer or ruler, provides her meat in the summer
and gathers her wheat in the harvest. Amen.