All These Tarnished and Glittering Things
Crush out all sentiment
Look at these small belongings from that other world when the four of us
were here. Little things with giant shadows: Fleur de lis seal stamp among
debris in the wake of a tired guardian angel who abandoned you, Frankie.
I have your letters, a red wax calligraphed F on your envelopes. The
unpainted elephant Michael made in shop lifts its trunk to moments under
the feet of family in long dresses, uncles pulling on pipes savoring the aperitifs
of pears and Gallo wine at picnics and anniversaries of the dead. Tip-of-my-tongue
Italian words hide in old afternoons of butterscotch and dust move like
shadow across starfish in ten feet of water. In my other hand the demitasse
grandfather sipped in a kitchen window that framed willows, back yard failing
my eyes now, incandescent playtime tricking birds with dice, Frankie, remember?
This white stone John gave me, said he found it in a cold river when
he lived in North Carolina with a girl he had to Baker Act, who had him
arrested, takes its place in a pine shadow box where I keep fallen stars still
ticking with light. The shadow box came to me from an old friend.
Her hands have touched these wooden squares, little homes of morning and
evening on my wall. You remember Marlene. She stole a married woman from
her kids and husband, who after coming home from a fire, found her head
between the legs of his wife. I can still smell Marlene’s hands sticky with
bergamot like I can smell Michael’s perfume on his black leather jacket
slashed on the back by a knife. The Outlaws were at the El Toro that night.
He decided to brave their world wearing mascara and a peach scarf.
This is a Polaroid of him in the infirmary at Riker’s Island. How can
anyone so emaciated flourish such handwriting? He found the Lord in a
five-by-eight cell. Here is a vial of costume gems I took from a drawer
that smelled of violets. Grandmother Rose strung them together with fake
pearls. Once I spilled a handful of emeralds on her bureau and they scattered
in the mirror like so many glittering beads of sweat. John found coins
and lire in a cookie tin under a floorboard in that room. Grandfather was
a night watchman then would come home with a wheel barrow of broken
things some of which still sparkled. Didn’t he give you a busted watch?
Remember this swizzle stick? Dropped by an in-law tugging her black
stockings like Bettie Page on a bear-skin rug. Rumors in the ice cubes.
We hid behind the Christmas tree, the high angel winking at us. I think
about nights the four of us sat with Aunt Rosalyn talking country music
and German shepherds. Her uncle survived Auschwitz, she said, and then
we played movie stars: CG for Clark Gable, BD for Bette Davis. I have a
snapshot of you, Aunt Roz and John taken the day before the car wreck.
They said you would not come out of the coma. Your face disfigured the
rest of your life, one leg swollen twice the size of the other. All the little
white pills in the world could not take away the pain until too many did.
And this photograph, you and John mouthing an aria from Tosca, laughing
at Caruso silent now, the 78 a scratched black hole. Frankie, John is petrified
to leave his apartment. I’m afraid he is going to give me something too big,
something that takes up space but time cannot touch. I’m afraid to tell you
why Crazy is here slathering the calves of my legs with wicked scent, purring
like baseball cards in the spokes of a slow moving bike. Maybe you know
why, maybe Celia leans over your shoulder as you listen to my thoughts,
sees what you see, what I take from this cauldron with a lid of gargoyles
and toads, this odd collection of things you might find in a junk store window
dense with ruined, redolent and grave stories. Is there a junk store in Heaven?
Are your perfect hands able to feel the finery of wings too large for infants?
Beneath campaign pins, an empty bottle of lavender, two silver dollars from
the eighteen nineties and a thimble Aunt Clara used while sewing skirts for my
mother when she was a girl, I found this old poem I wrote for Helena on the day
she died. Did you give your copy to God? It was not found in the room you
rented, the one with burnt curtains and pencil sketches of Edith Piaf.
I gave John your keyboard and sheet music of La Vie En Rose. He said your
place smelled of gas, but there was no mention of it in the police report.
They questioned your young friend and let him go. John is convinced the kid
gave you more than you could take, lit out from your bed after you closed your
eyes. I do not believe in an afterlife, Frankie. I do not want these terrible
things staggering about inside me like toy soldiers with bugles and bayonets.
I am in a back yard now, not the one grandfather worked each summer up to his
knees in milkweed and praying mantis, a new yard of lazy trees that sweep along
a wooden fence so far back you cannot see what lies beyond it. I never told you
the dream I had when I was a child. I think it was a dream. A lady hovers a
few feet in the air, barefoot above a row of ripe strawberries. She looks like
the statue of Mary in the grotto of rose bushes under the bay window of my
mother’s house, birds dance on her porcelain head and hands which she holds
out to someone, always on the verge of saying something. The woman in the dream
did speak. It was the day I started scribbling loops and zigzags.
Hear that? That is the sound of shovel hitting stone deep in the ground,
black dirt piled up high smoking with summer ghosts, a few bees murmuring code.
The apricots are turning colors. It is time, Frankie, for the kind of evening
that remembers nothing.
Lenny DellaRocca is the author of The Sleep Talker (Night Ballet Press, 2015) and Blood and Gypsies (Anaphora Literary Press, 2016). His poems have appeared in Fairy Tale Review, 2River View, Chiron Review, Albatross, Poetrybay, and other journals. Lenny is founder of Interview With a Poet and the South Florida Poetry Journal, both at interviewwithapoet.com.
This poem is not previously published.