Real Day of the Dead

Did you ever have sex on a bed topped with the coats of the mourners—friends and family downstairs eating three different casseroles, six kinds of pie, just hours after they buried their beloved below frozen December dirt? I should have known better than to ask, how she always turns the question back around on me, even knowing full well that I’ve taken only three lovers in the thirty-odd years since my first time, well two and a half, truthfully, since I couldn’t bear to break the vow back in ’89 … bourbon and bowling and Bob, the ringer on Team Livin’ on a Spare, made it mighty tempting … ’til he moaned, Right there, mamma: his first gutterball of the night … my first split … and all these years later, on the real Day of the Dead, I find myself driving around town looking for a house full of mourners (the early dark and witch’s moon make it easy to see inside), curtains pulled back on a family sitting Shiva, or there’s a driveway full of neighbors carrying in covered dishes, and so I gather the nerve to go in, pretend I’m a work friend of the deceased as I scan the crowd for a lone mourner, ask him if I could walk him to the upstairs bedroom, help him find his North Face.


first summer on Gerald Place

just two weeks past my seventh birthday, too young
to go to Woodstock that year when torrential rain drove
the crowds from the muddy fields of Bethel, shrinking
the Hendrix fans from 400,000 to 40,000
the same summer we moved into the suburban Cape
Cod my parents would eventually save four times
from foreclosure, the same summer I hugged my favorite uncle’s
camoflagued shoulders tight before my mother drove him
off on the first leg of his VietNam nightmare
the same summer Neil and the crew proclaimed
one giant step for makind, the same summer
a Kennedy drove off a bridge and ran, the same
summer Moneta Sleet Jr. won the Pulitzer for
his photograph of Dr. King Jr.’s family, graveside      and
riots in Curacao and Hartford  and  Stonewall
and others on the streets of Northern Ireland.
All of that and more and yet what I recall
vividly every time I hear the the sound of beating
rain is that hot summer evening,
August 17 1969, the day my mother turned 24, just
months before being pregnant with her fourth
child after a 6 year hiatus from birthing    what I recall
is the beating rain cooling our skin as she invited us
each by the hand, out of our new home’s oppressive heat
and she ran circles around us, danced barefoot with my father
encouraged us, laughing, to dance and run circles
too, there on our first patch of grass, sloshing
around on soaking earth, cooling our bodies feet
first, and she taught us there in that rain over Gerald Place
while Hurricane Camille wreaked havoc on the Gulf Coast,
while our nation fought for civil rights and her brother
fought in another tormented wet landscape, the rains that day
were cleansing there on Gerald Place as she taught us
to sing two new songs, become my rainy day forever songs
Purple Haze / / Give Peace a Chance

Places She Would Take Me

Uncle John must have seen the look in my eyes because he turned the game down   said I should go to Nonna’s room look in her drawers do whatever I wanted.  I lifted No. 5 from its dusty place on her gold-rimmed tray   inhaled from the bottle then opened the slim center drawer slid on elbow length gloves an antique amethyst ring a silk scarf around my shoulders          opened another drawer of photos mass cards matchbooks grocery lists for the A & P near her own tiny office at Day’s Travel    she took her first trip to Kansas City to learn to book and print tickets.  She told me places she would take me away from that town where kids didn’t come to my block didn’t think to be my friend even though I knew the answers and knew too that smart and shy don’t go hand in hand because if no one hears you you might as well be dumb.  They had more to do than force me out of my shell.  Nonna paid attention let me choose one scent then tip bottle to fingertip and we would say Two for love, two for luck as we dabbed each temple and behind each ear talking of the places she would take me.   Now I light a More Menthol tilt my chin to the ceiling and let out her flirtatious laugh the one that called everyone in the room to her side.  Now I open the closet for her mink stole and high heels.  I lift a brown box the size of a shoe box but it’s heavy like a cinderblock and all taped shut so I take it to Uncle John who drops his drink on the carpet seeing me there looking like her smelling like her holding the box of her ashes.

first published in Pittsburgh Poetry Review, 2016