Saturday, June 21, 2003

Early Jersey circa 1947

Slaghatta's was poppin'
and papa was there
almost always the only white guy at the bar
surrounded by faces that built his adopted land
black faces.

Faces covered in sweat after the shovel
and after the pick are put to rest for the night
the night filled with shining faces
sometimes tired and dusty
sometimes shining and washed and oiled
workers' faces
hustlers' faces
eyes aglow with anticipation

The hustler's smile dances in the dark
quickest of wit
sharp as a tack
esquired patent leather pointed toe afoot
you aint shit if your shoes aint shined
feathered boller atop
nifty, slick, theatrical flair
swashbuckling fast feet
on the corner
overflow from the bar room
where papa sat
white russian in the jersey jungle.

Simple would've noticed him
Who's the white dude?
that's wally the russian
did you see the game
Yeah, good game, huh
what's he about
Oh, he's alright, he's a immigrant
Campy came through in the ninth
Yes indeed, but Jackie's still the buster
Buster and the hustler
stole another one today
So you all slickt up
Goin to Harlem?
Hell no, Harlem don't need me no way
there's a party and a game
just around the corner at Loretta's
Thought they closed her down
but she opened right back up again
You feedin' on these country negroes again?
they lay their money down they fishin
my business is to get fish if they be fishin
Most of these folks know nothing about ponies,,,
but they lay down the wager
they wager with their wages
wages needed to feed...
that aint none a mine business
if they're fish, i'm fishin


shame on you man, slick as you are
Hey if they get lucky
I pay off
It aint right, most of these folks
still covered in georgia dust and mississippi mud
don't know a thing...
yeah, but they learns fast
some ov'em too damned fast
what you teachin'
same ol 'sentials
dress nice, pay yo bills
keep an eye out for the man
always
always.

On the corner after the game
tv blaring from inside the dark bar
the street erupted
the overflow crowd let loose howls of jubilation
back slapping guffaws heard miles away in Brooklyn
Robinson stole home
and the Doddgers beat the Giants
Flash fire of joy
I was snatched off my feet
on my way to the store to get the day's number
passed about lilke some trophy
hand to hand
secure above the swirling black faces
little white boy getting an education
learning about America

Someone's got a hand in this.

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

Father's Day Thoughts

Pop was part of it
The American Dream
His victory was far greater than he appreciated
in the lonely evenings
in the bar down the corner,
any corner in the neighborhood.

That's where the dream played out
for Vasili Andreivich
on the banks of the Old Raritan
first totally polluted major river in the USA,
son of a wannabe aristocrat
from Minsk
Which rhymes with Pinsk
also in Minsk.

In Russia he was something of a Jolly Wally
in translation
He claimed he was Vasili
or Sweet Basil
as I dutifully reminisce
America called him Wally
So did Mom.

Papa was twenty nine when he married Mama
she was twenty six
He spent nineteen years as a single White Russian
with some command of English
and powerful smart
with a hammer, a ruler and a saw.
His America was alive with young imigrants
from a Europe bleeding from Revolution
and the Great War;
Torn Loyalties in a new and often hostile America
If they thought you weren't acting
American enough
they'd Palmer you up and send you back
across the sea
to fight and die for a rotted corpse of a system.

So they hid in outhouses and herring sheds
these young immigrants with dreams
in America.

It was her blue eyes
Papa told me one melancholy day;
and I saw his face glow
and his eyes glimmer and shine
as when their love was the grand elixir,
Mama nodded in agreement
A slight blush radiating
but mostly she just kept on washin'
and scrubbin' cookin an' lookin'
after her little clutch a nine.

'Course Mama had to get thrown out
of the Jews' club
when she up and married Papa
a Russian and a gambler of sorts
But Papa Wally, as he liked to be called,
planted that seed
from whence grew the idea in America
that life could be
should be
'spozed to be
Good, Sweet
enjoyable
in America.


So Happy Father's Day to Vasili
Papa Wally
and to all of you out there
that ever had or have now
a Father
As a Father I give to you a thought
passed on to me:
What kind of a world are we leaving our children?
It's a simple and reasonable question.
Papa
for all his shortcomings
taught me that.