The old Italian touched my lover’s arm

in front of the church on Liberty

and sung some Italian gibberish

so beautiful and deserving

it made me want to punch him in the mouth.

He glided by and disappeared

around the red corner of the huge church

and it somehow made me

crazy with lust and sadness,

almost like how one of those big blue Conrail engines

blowing through Wilmerding

can give old men hard-ons

and make widows weep

for the kind of smoke that hung

in the Electric Valley in and out of wars.

The rumble of one of those monsters

is a lot like love, even though nobody,

and I mean nobody, wants to say it.


This happened in the summer

I forget what kind of job I had,

although I’m sure I could figure it out, look at old

tax records like a goddamn detective,

but I don’t want to remember it.

It got me by like it was supposed to do.

I remember the girl upstairs, a sushi bar waitress who

loved her boyfriend but still touched my arm

when we talked on the front stoop,

and I couldn’t tell if I was just becoming the

nice guy who listens or the nice guy

who would be lovely to lie upon and destroy,

but again, I can’t remember her name

only her stinking job and I’m sure there’s a reason

some shrink or know-it-all writer

could tell me about, but I don’t want it.


She left. Some orange and white moving van

took her and her stuff and her long-haired boy

across town to another walk-up

with the utilities included, and yes

I would have slept with her

and felt the guilt run across me

like the rat my father said

ran across his face in Vietnam.


In fact, that was the summer

he sat atop a bar stool in East McKeesport

and fed five dollar bills

to a ragged 35-year old woman

whose glasses slipped off her nose

when she’d get excited and hit

the discard buttons on the poker machine too hard.


She clicked the credits away as all the drunks,

toothless, scrubbed and otherwise,

caught his eye and held their drinks up to him

and he returned the favor, and winked

because that’s how men act with each other

when they acknowledge faithlessness

and are humiliated by it.


My roommate Andy and I

used to climb the unsteady fire escape

and lay out, our great white bellies

blinding the helicopter pilots trying to set

their crafts down on the giant red cross.


We’d hotfoot it over to a cooler of beers

sitting in the shade of the useless chimney.

He was in love and I didn’t want to hear about it

but how do you tell someone you don’t want to hear about it?


And I had work, which was cutting grass

for the University (how can I forget?)

but what is there to remember about that job?


Well, I used to cut the lawn of a

skinny Argentinean girl who was

dying and knew it, but celebrated every night

with wine and friends and cartons of cigarettes.

Her arms held scars, inverted canals

as thick as a corkscrew from the hundreds

of IV’s her new kidneys required and

I loved her for that even though

I only cut her grass and

listened to her once or twice.


So there it is. Who knows if Andy

still loves the girl. I’ve lost track

of almost everything.


It was two years ago

since I sat in that kitchen and watched

my huge shadow move across the three story wall of the church

while listening to the bakers clang away at their mixers

and ovens, their back door thrown open,

a metal grate cutting the bright white light.

I grieved for my mother that night in February, who was alive

in the mouth of unhappiness, and got lost

after dropping me off on her way back

to the town where she grew up and surely will die,

because for 200 hundred years

that’s what the people of Allegheny County

agreed upon, long before being born,

in the soup of the womb, digesting

Islay’s chipped ham and liking it.


Pittsburgh is a unique place.

It’s the only city in the world

where you could cross three rivers

and still be lonely.


And that is why after the Italian

made my girl blush, we crossed the street

for no particular reason

and bought a quart of shaved ice, half

honeydew, half cantaloupe, and walked back

to that apartment in Bloomfield,

took our shoes and socks off

and ate it on the front porch.


Then in the bedroom,

the windows opened like mouths.

It was a good excuse

to lay down again, and just rest,

the box fan blowing hard like everyone else.







Photo Source: Clergy Family Confidential