Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tuesday Poem: First published in Outerbridge in 1987

                   Illustration by Frederic Dorr Steele

When The Junk Man Came Down Summer Street

We stood on the sidewalk 
across from the corner drugstore,
eyeing our own reflections in the green glass doors
behind which Doc’s Great Dane slept 
every night to scare away burglars.

We stretched and pranced 
impatient as runners, waiting for the junk man 
and his wagon to roll like a ghostly wave
across Doc’s little harbor of marble and glass,
the knobs on the soda fountain 
bobbing like white marker buoys.

We followed him down the block then:
past old D’Allessandro squinting 
through Coke bottle glasses
his white hair stiff as the brushes 
that hung from the sides of the wagon,
past Rose Quatrocchi with her 
sons in their shiny red stroller,
past Ralph Molinaro 
who kept pigeons and rabbits,
his backyard bristling with edible blossoms,
past the girls playing hopscotch 
with a hard rubber heel, begged from 
the shoemaker who never seemed busy,
who my father said was a Mafia bookie,
their game interrupted, the girls ran behind us.

The junk on the wagon   
tilted and swayed like the graceful trombones 
and French horns the old men played as they 
marched for the feast of Santa Croce Camarina.

His cowbells were strung 
like stars across our daylight.
They clanked and tinkled 
and floated a rhythm that made us 
want to start skipping.

There was Santa and Rosa
whose  mother could never 
remember their names
and called them Hey You in Italian,
Columbia who couldn’t come out 
unless Baby Jerry came with her,
Tanya and Sonia, and Hanna their sister,
their mother on the porch 
in her flowered babushka.

Then Georgie Capello 
and blonde-headed Victor,
and Sammy the Mongol 
who swore like a trooper.
Even crazy Joe, in his black leather jacket,
stopped combing his hair and came out
to call to the chestnut junk wagon  horse
who seldom looked up 
at the sound of our voices,
his hooves rocking slow 
on the hard black macadam,
inching his way to the corner on rickety legs.

Past the brick stoop where 
Gracie’s Communist tenant
sat by himself every night like a mummy,
past Father Andresani’s cranky old mama
her gray head nodding in time to the rosary,
down to Louie’s where we 
bought Daddy's cigarettes,
and lemon ice with the leftover money.
Louie made it himself 
in a big silver bowl 
at the back of the store
and he told us he made it 
with snow shipped from Italy.

Then the junk man waved 
as he got to the corner,
taking his jingle and clip-clop 
toward 21st Ave. His hat sat so straight 
on his head in the gold and the shadows,
it sent sparks up our spines 
as we stopped at the corner 
to wave him goodbye,
made us suddenly jump Double Dutch
or play Tag in a wild stampede over fences,
and through the network of yards 
and alleyways behind our houses.

On those days we were never glad 
to be called in to supper.
The rust and the clutter, 
the feathers, the moving machine parts,
the slack leather reins in the junkman’s
powerful big knuckled hands,
the spots on the horse’s back 
where the hair had rubbed off,
the plod and the footfall 
lingered in our heads, so we 
laughed out loud in our beds 
before falling asleep.
There was so little junk in our lives.


Helen Lowe said...

I like the sense of social history in this poem and the 'life rhythm' of the lines.

Ben Hur said...

It reminds me of a mini-version of Dylan Thomas's "Under Milk Wood" with its parade of colourful characters that the reader pictures in his or her mind.

helen McKinlay said...

This poem reminds me of when Woolworths was the place for kids to go.
It was so exciting to see all the different baubles and enjoy the desire without the possession.
I enjoyed the breathless description very atmospheric. Didin't know she wrote poems like that.