V  P  R

Contemporary Poetry and Poetics





My biggest peeve:  you didn’t buzz me in
But rose with maddening, deliberate ease,
Armed with a badge, an amiable grin,
And a massive clanking rosary of keys.

Wouldn’t you think a doorman would be able
To keep the front door key in easy reach?
I’d air my grievance at the laundry table.
But no, you always had to finger each,

Extracting while you fumbled, as your fee
(Mostly from women tenants—men could pass),
A Charon’s coin of grudging courtesy
Paid to your vigilance behind the glass.

It was naïve new tenants who believed 
The doorman, with his broken English, “slow.”
Adulterers, their spouses well deceived,
Had to confront another who would know;

Mothers tempted, while the baby napped,
To run to the bodega for some bread
(Five minutes I’d be gone at most) were apt
To picture your straight gaze and wait instead.

Como está Sophia?  you’d exclaim
Several times a day to my small daughter,
Who’d brighten (barely verbal) at her name,
Clutching a sippy cup of juice or water

She’d offer you.  A toy, a gummy teether—
Anything served as pretext for a chat.
She was never in a hurry either,
Happy to hear you praise her pretty hat.

She is too young to ask me where you’ve gone
But pauses with a puzzled look.  Who knew so
Much depended on your baritone
Duets with Pavarotti or Caruso,

Or that your small talk held us all together?
Never out sick or absent, never late,
One of the city’s constants, like the weather
Whose vagaries you loved to contemplate

With the fortunes of the Yankees or the Mayor,
For us you were the city, in a way—
Opinionated, brash, and always there,
Until a note appeared one random day.

We read that you were dead at forty-seven
Of a sudden stroke, who’d seen us with aplomb
Through blizzards, flooding, blackouts,  9/11,
Erect in the building’s prow.  We go and come

At will now, and each time I recollect
The purposeful stride and brisk abstracted wave
It once seemed so important to perfect
But seem so heartless now you’re in your grave,

Wishing I’d let you make your argument
For school reform, talked opera now and then,
And thinking, too, of how I always meant
To teach Sophia how to say, Muy bien.


© by Catherine Tufariello


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