Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Tuesday Poem: Previously published in The Passaic County Community College Anthology in 1992

We Learn About Love 

from the stories our parents 
tell at the supper table,
like sober news commentators,
creating history, they always begin 
with an axiom: It doesn’t pay 
to be grabby, they say.  
Take Minnie around the corner.

Minnie ran the local grocery for her parents.
She was what we all called homely:
short and brown and thick as a little fireplug.

But Minnie had a beautiful husband,
her father had imported for her from Italy.
And she glowed when she had to talk for him
to the rest of us, which she did 
because he didn't speak English.

Day after day he went off to 
who knows what job or where,
with his black wavy hair, 
white teeth, and permanent tan.
But, let’s face it: what he 
said and did wasn't important.
What was, was that he was Minnie's, 
and that the women
said three Hail Mary’s 
whenever he passed them.

Until one summer this angel 
went up on the roof to fix it,
and in a grab at a sliding hammer 
plunged to the sidewalk 
and broke his neck.
Just like that! My mother 
snapped her fingers,
her whole life gone in a heartbeat!

Minnie must have been shattered,
but two days after the funeral 
she was back, shuffling around 
the store in her mules and peds,
using the claw to grab the heavy 
cans off the shelves, dropping them 
down and catching them in one hand,
like she’d always done. But it 
wasn’t the same. It used to be fun 
to go in there, to watch her dance
with the mop, or sing to 
the baskets of fava beans.
Now the store seemed more
like Pompeii,  what with 
Minnie buried alive 
every night in its ashes.

It's a shame, my mother sighed, 
as she got up to clear the table.
You go after too much, and you’re 
in for nothing but heartache.
Yeah, my father said, as he lit a cigarette,  
it doesn’t pay to kid yourself.

My brother and I swallowed, eyeing each
other through a growing cloud of smoke.


Helen McKinlay said...

I really got hooked at the beginning of this poem. The characters felt so real...it was like a mini novel and the interspersed quotes from the parents added to it. Great ending too
with Minnie in the ashes of Pompeii
and the children absorbing there dad's cigarette smoke! Is it true?

Michelle Elvy said...

fantastic story here, wrapped in beautiful language and images. And yes, the beginning draws you right in...

Mary McCallum said...

Eileen - I love narrative poems - and this is so full of that lovely detail that captures absolutely - Minnie 'thick as a little fireplug' and the glossy husband from Italy - the unspoken jealousy... Thanks for this and all the poems you've posted over the past two years - such a treasure store that we feel privileged to have shared. And now we're two! Happy Birthday to us - Mary & Claire