Two more poems from Softblow

At the Bay

We were sitting
at Liman’s
in Sheepshead Bay—
right on the water—
which was lapping
over some fashionably
placed rocks
with the regularity
of a metronome.

He was gabbing—
he had the gift—
timing the movement
of his ink stained hands
with the patter of his speech.
We had been eating
and drinking for two hours
and I was worried
about the tab.

The gaslights came on
as the sun set
and in the warm light
I could better see how old
and frail he was
He was the Great Uncle—
the family stain
the outlaw-artist-etcher
who passed paper—funny
money, and served time
inside, every decade.

But, he was charming—
and I was smitten.
I could tell
from just his cadence,
he was family.

He left for the Men’s
just as the check arrived.
A back way out,
I thought, staring at a bill
half the size of my mortgage.
But, he was back in a flash,
snatched the check from
my trembling hands,
gave me a wink
and the waiter,
five, crisp Franklins
He whistled
“Stormy Weather,”
as we walked away—
the song grandpa
would whistle
when content.


We were all there
that late August day.
Fox and Mike and Mesher,
Potsy and Buddha
and Bernie the Skunk,
even Arnie was there—
the dumbest smart guy
on the planet.

And Bobby
and his younger brother Petey.

We played five on five
which was too damn many
for our narrow court.
The game would end,
as it often did,
in a fight.

Everybody liked Petey.
Tall and rail thin,
he walked on the balls of his feet
as if his ankles were springs.

Bobby was two years older—
a broad hulking menace
who smoldered on a short fuse—
a certain something
behind his eyes said
clear as a name tag:
I’m crazy.

Bobby told us over and over
he didn’t want his younger brother
hanging around.
But no one could make him leave.
He’d suffered Petey all summer
and when his brother bumped him at the foul line
he’d had enough.

He beat on Petey the way
an older brother does.
We figured there’d be
a bloody nose, a black eye or two
and some cracked ribs they would
tape at Beth-el.
But then something changed
and we knew in an instant
that Bobby would kill him.

It took four of us to pull him off.

That school year Bobby did Juvie
and his brother learned to walk with a limp.
They moved in December
from a rat trap in Brooklyn
to a rat trap in the Bronx.

Bobby died in ’69 on Hamburger Hill.
Petey took his game leg
to Fort Hamilton
and was declared 4f.

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