July 2010

Every May, in the middle of the month
we’d ride the D bus headed south
to Center City Philadelphia
for the annual Wanamaker’s Foundation Sale.
And even though you had no money–
except the bus fare for two and lunch for one–
something about gazing
at the latest Vanity Fairs
stroking the satin straps of an Exquisite Form
made you feel sexy,
made you wish that just once
your husband would run his fingers through your platinum blonde hair
and kiss you on the neck
or tell him how much he wanted you.

And afterwards, we’d walk past the perfume counter
and you’d spray Channel No. 5 from your own private bottle,
a tester, that Sally the sales clerk kept by the register just for you.
Then we’d leave through the Thirteenth Street Exit
and walk to Horn & Hardarts on Broad Street.

I’ll always remember the stainless steel L-shaped cafeteria
for those who preferred a hot meal; or
the small glass compartments of the Automat
with bright silver knobs for handles looking
like little jewelry boxes for food: bologna & cheese sandwiches
stacked atop like Hematite in Jasper,
a wedge of lemon meringue pie resting like Golden Beryl on a doily
or maybe a lone Washington Red Delicious.

You always drank coffee without a meal
as I lunched on a salisbury steak, macaroni & cheese and a coke;
your eyes as green as the dollar bills that you didn’t have,
the ones that could’ve bought you lunch and a sexy new bra.
But you didn’t tell me then that you only had only coffee
because that was all you could afford–if I was to eat–
so a child of five was sheltered from borderline poverty.

And as I rested my cheek on your Oil of Olayed one, the smell of Channel No. 5 on your neck
the perfect set of white teeth as you smiled,
the D Bus took us north, back to East Oaklane,
back to the luminous humidity of your love
that through time and memory still hangs on.

Wynne Guglielmo

My dirty slippers

The splintered paint

(Interrupting the crickets)

And I blew blue smoke
Into a yellow light

(That houses thousands of flies).

That’s when I noticed:
Guarded by moldy windows

On a Thursday night

Soaked sheets!


Moans of the River Side Train
Filling the distance

Between you and me.

William Toner

I’m in my room, fashioned to inspire and calm me. A room fit for making love–good for creating and inspired by Woolf (the reason I am territorial of it… it isn’t selfishness I swear – its self-preservation). I have tea in my favorite cup which is white and simple. Some would say boring; I say clean. It can be whatever I want; it has no identity of its own. The room smells clean with a faint hint of incense, unique only because usually incense comes with a conglomeration of other smells it is made to cover. But this time it’s simultaneously clean and seductive. Bill Evans is doing his thing, permeating the room; Cummings is against the wall behind me breaking rules. Hurston is slightly left of center under my breast while Walker is higher up curling the hair on my head. The wax dripped all over my satin, but I couldn’t care less. I like things that start burning when you tell them to and don’t stop until they’re exhausted. Because they are like me or because I want to be like them?

Meanwhile relief in physical form, happiness in a bottle, is in my dresser drawer with the other components of my evening cocktail. It will help with yet another disease. As my counselor says, my body is and always has been suspect; it requires constant surveillance. But let me tell you what Hurston said before I continue:

She had found a jewel down inside herself and she had wanted to walk where people could see her and gleam it around. But she had been set in the market-place to sell. Been set for still-bait. When God made The Man, he made him out of stuff that sung all the time and glittered all over. Then after that some angels got jealous and chopped him into millions of pieces, but still he glittered and hummed. So they beat him down to nothing but sparks but each little spark had a shine and a song. So they covered each one over with mud. And the lonesomeness in the sparks made them hunt for one another, but the mud is deaf and dumb. Like all the other tumbling mud-balls, Janie had tried to show her shine.

Their Eyes Were Watching God

That said, when Mom found a similar bottle of happiness, Daddy said in astonishment, “she got her sparkle back.” My friend, Chol, said that when I feel good I light up whatever room I walk into, but when I feel bad it’s like a little bulb slowly burning out. Apparently that’s how he assesses my mood–by how bright the room is once I get there. When Pmac stepped on stage, and for him that was “all the world,” he almost blew our circuits. And when Nate swaggered in even his shiny teeth winked at you. So I’m going to try this, for them, for me… I’m going after my damn sparkle and if I drip all over everything while I burn then at least I’ll be warm.

Abigail Prang

You stay with me all day today.
Yesterday too.
At first I thought you sullen
I did not recognize you
Bear with the troubled face
You are thin today 
And not responding to people scare tactics,
Our gongs 
and indignant shouts. 
You who would open our door
Walk right into the larder
We wanted you to go
To get away from our kind
we are greedy and we do not share.
We know how we are
Some are worse
you must go.
But today it is your pain 
I am seeing
Your pain I am feeling
although I live in a place that has no
place for a bear
You haunt me 
You of the twice tagged ears.
Last year you came to our porch 
with your three sturdy cubs
You upturned our cans of seed 
and stayed an half an hour.
The young singing a bear song
high and one noted
Two burly boys and a little girl who
hung on your leg
You had to cuff the boy finally
just so you could have some food for you
and the little one.
He still resisted
the brother too.
Where are they now?
For years, bears lived in the woods
And we lived on the edge of town.
We did not see your folk
Only the occasional winter rabbit 
and the results of a night of deer nibbling 
if we sited our tomato plants 
too casually.
But now the lust for gas and stone has
sawed off the top of the mountain
The snakes are gone
and many birds
who needed denser canopy
you have no place to hide
no place 
to be a bear
In any healings I have done,
it was you Bear
who showed up first
who brought strong energy
and light.
It was you Bear
who held up my heart.
Where am I now? 
Anne Ryan

She sat on the plastic seat as if it were a comfortable
winged back chair.
Her brown Selby No-heels barely touched the floor
and she methodically tapped her toes together.
The skin of her calf hung from ankle to instep;
those legs walked thousands of miles,
stood for one third of her life in supermarket lines,
banking lines, wake viewing lines,
the legs that sashayed to the table each night
as she served her family dinner.

In the Orient, the old have been accorded respect
from wisdom passed down from the centuries.
And what is wisdom?
but the desire to live slowly like the Bonsai
among one’s own kind.
But here, the love that an old woman offers
just isn’t enough.

The doctors and nurses plotted about what to do.
A county hospital or maybe a “Nursing Facility”
or maybe, since she was babbling to herself,
a mental institution.

Christ, could she have ever believed
that something like this would happen to her–
left dumped in an emergency room
with nothing but the searing pitch
of a distant flat-liner on a heart monitor;
that final unheard song,
that blinding dullness that courses without warning
while holding the hand of a stranger
who can’t possibly help you.

Wynne Guglielmo

Before I’m slated to pinch hit, gray old Skipper nods for me to sit next to him while he flashes bewildering signals to his coaches.

“Now I know you’re a college guy, but I want to ask a simple question. How deeply do you know Tozzi?”

“Mostly from TV. Future Hall of Famer. I’m afraid to approach him.” 

He turns a whiskery face so open it almost seems to be flat.
“We don’t want you if you’re afraid, first!  Second, Brother’s Keeper!
What I believe. What makes a team. Okay, a hypothetical. We’re checking into the Sheraton, bags all over the lobby. He falls over a few. Vodka.       Bleeding. Just you there with him. Do you say, ‘Listen! Got a date. Hey over there at the desk! Come over here and help! I can’t stay.’” He whips into a frenzy of signals.

His mocking my voice hurts. Evidently I’m a hothouse flower.

“I wouldn’t do that in a thousand years!” I inform this gray dervish.
He stops his hands to grunt approval.

I finally get to bat after Skip’s lesson in fellowship or whatever, and soon the umpire is calling strikes on any pitch that doesn’t sail into the seats behind us.  I’m used to the wild firethrowers in the minor leagues, but Suds Dooley, old magician, tosses me slow junk.

I vow to swing at anything I can reach, and manage to knock one off the very end of the bat, stinging my hands ferociously. The ball lands on the bag at first base and shoots off right. I leg it out, a hit!

“That’s some cue shot, Rookie,” sneers the first baseman, returning with the ball. “You’re vibrating all over, even down to your pecker!”

Tub, my coach there snaps, “We can do without the cheesy sarcasm.
Hand the ball over for his trophy case: A hit in his debut!”

“Does that make him a debutante?”

“Ignore him.” Tub massages my shoulders. “They were hiring the handicapped when he staggered in.”

Thinking it’s my turn to throw an insult, but no use, I’m too nervous.
Coach whispers, “Stay close to the base. You’re no threat to anybody.”
He adds, “Categorical imperative. What you do from here on forms a universal moral matrix for everyone!”
“Excuse me!”

“You’re on your own.” That usually meant to steal second if I see
a good chance. And catch holy hell if I fail.  “And I don’t give situational logic,” Tub hisses. “that old to get to Y you must do X bullshit.”

“That’s nice, Coach Tub. I can see the way.”

Mugger was up to bat. Coach couldn’t have spoken to him this
intellectual way. You know how vulgar people will prescribe how to cure a really high-strung woman? “She needs a week in the woods with a Polack with a seven word vocabulary.” He’s the Polack.

I know him as a string of grunts playing video games. Well he speaks with his bat, ripping one past me and the snotty first baseman.

I run like hell, with Slice, the third base coach, windmilling for me to come there, pointing down for me to slide, which I do, mostly on my ass. Bumping. “Not pretty,” I apologize.

He shrugs in his bony, razor-like way. “No matter, just a deficiency in a learned pattern. Essence precedes existence. You are man first and
then ballplayer. Certainly not process like your slide. Even if you had accomplished it with some art. Still just a process.”

I’m getting up to here with thought, and need some baseball info
from him!
“But you’ll have to tell me when you think a fly ball is deep enough for me to tag up and try to score!” I plead.

The other team is putting in another pitcher, a  fat boy seesawing through the center field gate.

“You don’t listen, Rookie! Rely on your instincts as a creative agent
If you’re authentic, you’ll stay up here in the show.”

“But Skip stresses teamwork! Brother’s Keeper!”

“Not necessarily mutually exclusive. But, you’ve also touched upon higher echelon differences we shouldn’t get into. All the coaches argue philosophy and it can get heated!

“A dynamic tension keeps us in first place. As does  a mix of players
and coaches .  Neanderthal Mugger drooling over there at first base,”
he points a long finger, ”contrasted to bullpen catcher who’s liberation theory theologian. Actually finds small churches to preach in when we’re on the road.

“But not for long. People attend church for reassurance, to be told they put in a good week and another’s coming. Not that the institution itself, in consonance with Business, holds the people down. That’s Marx, no?

“At any rate, he jabbers to the pitchers he’s warming up and they’re all practically Communists by now!”

I wander two steps towards home plate when when our shortstop,  probably a Zoroastrian raw vegetable mystic of the breakaway Saturn- Worshiping Sect, rockets a line drive to the third baseman, who steps on the bag to double me off and then pipes “Daydreaming lacks the solidity of real vision!” He continues scolding my back as I trot to our bench.
“But many know no other way.”

So, not just our team full of it.

My head about exploding, I try to snatch my glove and run out to the field, but Skipper lifts me for defensive purposes, substituting Hector, wily child protected by bizarre dialectical Spanish the Puerto Rican batting coach can’t fathom. From some Caribbean mountainous interior.

Untouched by academics, he’s always laughing.

Frank Ford

This small studio apartment is filled
with the smell of a million pennies.
My pennies.
The ones that course in small amounts
through my collapsing veins.
Gray like elephant’s skin
these arms don’t even look like mine.
The dull tracks left by adhesive tape
where the hair’s ripped off
are roadmaps for the hands of a nervous nurse.
The tygon tubing’s been dangling for so long
from arm to IV stand that I feel alone
on the weekends when the Health Services Crew take it away.

Even the darkness doesn’t enter these broken
shade drawn windows. No one ever visits. Not anymore.
Not since the money’s gone spent entirely on myself:
the Kool Aid sized packets of DDI, the antifungal drugs
and three cases of Ensure–Vanilla, Chocolate and Strawberry,
flavors I once loved as a boy.
Only a pair of cupboard mice I call Hun and Deary
share my silence.
Sometimes they nibble on the blood filled tubing
that loops around my feet like an elbow joint
off of some s-trap gone mad.
I don’t know if they can get sick so I always shoo them away.
I love these mice–them being my only live-in companions.

I’m getting ready for my AIDS buddy to arrive.
I check my face in the mirror and see the skin drip
from my cheekbones like wax forming down a candle.
She’s a mouthy dike from South Philly,
who, the first time she came to visit
told me to “get off your ass and and let’s take a walk.
You’re not dead yet.” And she offered a hand
to lift me up from my vinyl chair.
I guess I didn’t know how to take
her to-the-point-no-fucking-around manner.

I was really hoping for a male buddy.
A 25 year old boy with dark hair and a swimmer’s body
but instead I got a pushy long-haired Fish
who insisted on reading me poetry.
I told her that it was best that she left,
the Task Force made a mistake–should’ve sent a man.
She looked at me, gave me a hug and left her number.
“You’ll call,” and then she walked out.

The Task Force sent me a young swimmer-type who wouldn’t touch me
without his blue surgical nitrile gloves on.
His name was Bobby.
He did Whippets and Acid,
smoked too much dope
and talked of nothing else but the Glory Holes
and Tea Trade Rooms.
Two weeks later I called her.
Told her I reconsidered
that I was an ass and hoped she wasn’t too mad.
We laughed.

Now she reads Cocteau, Yukio Mishima,
Marcel Proust and Frank O’Hara
while I knit gloves for her pale weathered hands–
something to keep the skin from shaving off
in the slicing winter air.

When she first started visiting we’d go for long rides
in her blue convertible but now with my ass gone
and just nine layers of skin stretched across my tailbone
like saran wrap I just can’t do it anymore.
Besides, she drives like Richard Petty.

She makes me 8-scoop ice cream mikshakes with Brewer’s
yeast, weight-lifter’s protein powder, B-12, sugar, vanilla extract and three raw eggs.
‘Says it helped her father battle cancer, so I drink it.

I guess I could sit here and bitch
about the lovers I’ll never have,
vacations I’ll never take to Fiji,
Big Sur, New Mexico–never again see Redondo Beach
or the seals that float like lillypads
by the docks of Tony’s Restaurant.
But when I think of her,
her long blonde hair rising and falling with the bounce
of her trampoline steps
her taut hug as she says goodbye
her black leather boots tapping in rhythm as she reads Lorca
her unyielding will filtering through those dry cracked
fingertips into me, I wouldn’t trade her
for any well-hung swimmer boy,
because I look forward to our Sunday’s
so I can hear just a little more love, just a little more poetry.

Wynne Guglielmo