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
You know, just a couple months ago I turned down a job and a chance to move back to Pittsburgh, and I’ve been regretting it ever since. Your poem has only magnified that feeling. Thank you for the trip down nostalgia lane.
Simply amazing. Reading this swarms me with memories of our youth…some other lifetime ago.