Here, where the paved ridge declines
into the bay,
what I keep coming back to is a
its blunt facade storied with brick,
latticed with fire-escapes—a monument
to function. Whatever dull
raised this box above the dwindling
of a city spreading to the Island
was pleased to be paid and let it
into the flow, block on block of
rowhouses crowding to pristine lawns
along the shore: though I loved
the wrought iron doors outside the
between each grille a painted-over
on every pane of glass a scratched-in
or emblem embossed in magic marker
to preserve a life from the illegible:
carved plaster, affectations of marble,
the long hallway devoid of furniture
where I'd hurl my pink "Spauldeen,"
hearing its report echo up the floors.
I'd watch for the landlord, Mr.
who changed his name from the Greek,
on patrol in his great brown coat.
Now, stiff as washed-up actors at
the others come, passing from the
honeycomb of their rooms: Astrid
crew-cut jutting off his head, his
a prizefighter's. His wife,
hinting of drink, used to slip me
on the stairs. Frances and
above the alley, their door always
Tuscanies of sauce drifted into
with smoke from Tony's panatellas.
they'd have us over to play Po-Ke-No,
Frances calling cards, her rough
throaty as Bacall's. And "Skinny
who'd hunt the avenue for bargains.
her hair to a stiffened hive and
of her virginity. Madeleine
lived over her.
With her French page-boy and porcelain
she looked a nun and talked of nothing
but finding a husband. Old
who limped since the War.
we called The Farmer who stalked
with his owlish stare. Bobby
who came back from Vietnam, my mother
"a little off." Crazy Kathryn
show tunes in the hall. My
pent in our four rooms. I can
see us all
climbing the last flight to the
the night the city turned blank
as a screen.
In that blackness, the stars visible
above our cramped antennas, everyone
went quiet. We listened to
on the Narrows like voices through
the muffled promise of lives beyond
© by Daniel Tobin