Checkers, bocce, some days rummy or hearts,
early fall under chestnut trees. Then winter,
inside the rec center, bingo and widows
while snow dazes 8th St.’s traffic lights.
Summer, finally, Mikey and Sal
warm themselves in beach chairs on the grass.
Sticky sunshine, stoagies, Phillies games
quacking from transistors, dago red
dispensed from crystal altar-boy cruets
going up in smoke. Some days,
in pressed t-shirts, Sal played sweet potato,
Mikey the mandolin, bald heads nodding
like tulips. Why wasn’t I surprised
by its senselessness, the word we used
to justify what happened, anything
that happens, childhood friends at odds
over money, maybe, or baseball stats,
the unions or Democrats, boiling over
as usual, nose to nose, blue in the face,
until, this one time, Mikey goes home
and comes back with his old kraut Luger,
and Sal starts to run, crabby legs and arms
lacing the air, until he drops, as if life
were one short breath held and spent,
while the pistol rabbits into the air
from slow motion Mikey’s hand,
who can’t think fast enough to feel
his own heart failing him. Their cronies
couldn’t help. What was the fight about?
He never carried the gun. The widows said
bad blood, between old fools too old to know
bad blood was there. One generation kept
the story alive, trying to make it make sense,
but it dried up and blew away, then stuck
here to me, where there’s still no saying how
the angers of a place can live in us
like love, thriving, terribly our own.


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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 22 Number 8, on page 55
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