‘such a pretty pretty boy!’

dear friends…a short story in three parts,
while i continue working on the 3 co write poems.
.
.
.
‘such a pretty pretty boy!’
part 1
.
.
.

I would soon find out as my back glued tight against the living room wall, right next to the tall bird cage where a too close crowd waited in narrow eyed but hushed anticipation, I had the best seat in the house.

‘Oh, you’re such a pretty boy. Pretty Boy… Pretty Boy…
you’re such a pretty pretty boy!’

In her familiar sing song melody, my mom chirped her song to our blue and white, precocious and quite talkative parakeet Pretty Boy. I’d heard him repeat the words plenty of times, his head bobbing and weaving as he scuttled from side to side along his wooden perch. That a bird could talk as clearly as Pretty Boy did, was an endless source of fascination to this 5 year old.

‘Pretty Boy..Pretty Boy…such a pretty pretty boy!’

On queue and just as mom had promised, Pretty Boy rattled off his happy monologue to the delight of everyone,

‘Ohhhh’
‘Isn’t that cute?’
‘I’ve never heard a bird talk like that!’

With all the oohs and ahhs from the crowd and staring at his little round mirror, Pretty Boy was very animated and quite taken with himself,

‘Pretty Boy..Pretty Boy…such a pretty pretty boy!’

“Does he say anything else?’

And mom who was beaming now,

“Oh sure, he says lots of things!’

This was no easy crowd to please. It was the first time all my aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents on my father’s Italian side of our family had en masse descended upon our suddenly smallish house,
and smiling seemed to be a foreign concept to them.

Leaning forward and stacked three deep in a semi circle around the cage…and me, I was suffocating and beginning to hyper ventilate. I needed to escape but there was simply no escaping this wall of largish, olive skinned humans with their dark eyes and darker hair. It was my first experience of a claustrophobia I still suffer from today.

Then suddenly, unprompted and as if on queue to save me, Pretty Boy still preening from the attention squawked an unmistakeable string of,

“God damn shit…God damn shit…God damn shit!’

I’d never seen so many people move simultaneously like this group did, as if the epicenter of an 8.2 earthquake shuddered just below our little dining room jolting everyone backwards and off the floor. And no one jumped higher than my wide hipped grandmother. She landed with such a thud, her low black heels left divots in the pine floor.

I caught my breath as there was instantly more air to breath, but I was certainly the only person experiencing any sense of relief in the sudden vacuum of silence, in that improbable, unforeseeable and unforgettable moment. And with the best seat in the house, I watched the ensuing family drama all unfold.

‘such a pretty pretty boy!’ pt.2

I stood there as confused as a kid could be.

My uncles rushed to the aid of my grandfather while he struggled in vain to steady the still listing ship that was my grandmother’s bulky frame; like asking a stalk of corn to brace a tipping fire hydrant.

The science of leverage was awkwardly defining itself in real time.

He was all of 6’4″, kind and gentle as any person you’d ever meet, she was a wide stump of a woman with an iced grey, evil dead eyed stare that could bend an I-beam and bring concrete to tears. And when she narrowed that laser like gaze occasionally turning her brand of affection towards me, the overly potent mixture of her rose scented perfume and stinging pain screaming from my cheek as she twisted it with a little too much pleasure….well, this kid learned early to keep a safe distance from that thumb and forefinger.

With the men shoring up the aft, pocketbooks snapped open and out came the doily edged hankies dotting the sweat now appearing on my grandmother’s brow and rouged cheeks. Dumfounded, I watched as my aunts dutifully smoothed away the upset in her rose printed sundress, surrounding her like handmaidens to a queen. I still didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. On the receiving end of my father’s own icy dead eyed stare, mom was admonishing Pretty Boy but she seemed as confused as I was. Neither of us had ever heard Pretty Boy say those words before.

I had no clue know what they even meant.

And there we all stood, suspended in an uncomfortable void of inaction, afraid to move or say a single word hoping this unpleasant catastrophe had finally subsided, hoping we could move on to the buffet to fill our bellies and forget it ever happened.

“God damn shit…God damn shit…God damn shit!’

Pretty Boy, still bobbing and weaving along his perch and clear as day suddenly pierced the silence and proudly squawked another string of expletives to the crowd. But if the huge gasp that heaved deep from my grandmother’s innards were any clue as to how this all would end, you would have thought those three words like three poisoned arrows…. were aimed directly at her.

Unsteady again as one hand reached instinctively for the rosary beads in one of her two side pockets while the other found a gaudy gold crucifix on the heavy chain around her neck, up rolled her eyeballs as my grandmother began to breathlessly recite a mournful monologue of Hail Mary’s and Our Father’s in her native Italian. She held the crucifix in such a white knuckle grip pointing it at Pretty Boy as if Lucifer himself, sat on that perch cloaked in blue and white feathers.

Oh, it was quite the dramatic scene as she turned on her heels and thumped towards the door with my poor grandfather behind her gesticulating, endlessly apologizing with that familiar expression
on his face,

whattamigonnado,’youknowhowsheis, howdidiendupwiththiswoman’

the helplessness that was forever creased in his forehead.

This act mercifully came to its conclusion as the rest of the family followed the mighty matriarch, heads down and mumbling as they corralled their children and shuffled out the door.

It was the last time any of them would ever visit our house.
.
.
.
Being the early riser it was my chore to remove the cover from Pretty Boy’s cage. I’d fill his seed and water containers and begin his daily chatter while teaching him some of my own sing song phrases.

‘Here comes the sun…here comes the sun….here comes the sun’,

lifted from the title of my favorite Richie Haven’s song playing constantly on the AM radio station that summer of ’67. Leaning close to the cage, I would let my waist length hair sift through the cage until it covered his head. Nibbling the ends a little. he waited for me to lift his veil of hair and repeat,

‘Here comes the sun …here comes the sun…here comes the sun.’

Our silly version of peekaboo. But Pretty Boy wasn’t waiting for me on the familiar perch near his little mirror that morning.

‘such a pretty pretty boy’ Conclusion

.
for Mom
.

And for that entire summer Pretty Boy’s empty cage remained where it had always been, aside one of the two near floor to ceiling, lead glass windows at the rear of our narrow railroad apartment.

The low sills provided an easy view of the wall of four story tenements and scruffy yards, and easier access to the wrought iron fire escapes dangling off the rear of every building. This view, even on the sunniest of days in monotone brown tar shingles, the imposing black painted, zigzagging iron bars and early shadows left little to be hopeful about; like the Escher engraving of the steps to nowhere.

Divorce changes lives in a hurry. But this neighborhood we moved to, tucked away in a forgotten corner of Brooklyn was lifetimes removed from the wide open and manicured green lawns and the single family life we once lived.

The dimming memories felt like someone else’s lucky dreams.

Yet looking back now, sitting on that window sill visiting with Pretty Boy is where I spent much of my time when I was home. Studying the blue intricate beauty of his feathers was such a refreshing anomaly to eyes aching for color, his endless banter one of the few cheerful constants in my already unsteady life. So it really shouldn’t have surprised me that seeing those blue feathers lying so still and quiet, nestled amongst the thin strips of Daily News lining the tray of his cage was enough to bring this 15 year old man boy to tears.

But it did. I struggled to keep my crying quiet, trying to decipher the unwelcome silence from his cage, wrestling with another inexplicable, here one day not here the next, loss. Yet another loss I was unprepared to absorb.

Mom and I sat at the kitchen table and reminisced about Pretty Boy, reminding each other of memories we had forgotten while she breathed in long slow drags of BelAir smokes and longer purposeful chugs of her favorite Schaefer beer. Cradling Pretty Boy in her hands, her chest rising in deep exhales and her lips trembling a little she recalled that fateful day Pretty Boy came home.

Back in the day, in the Long Island town of Hempstead where we lived then, all the shopping centers had a Woolworth store, nicknamed the five and dime. It was a huge place that had miles of aisles filled with toys, cards, tape, ribbons and all the handy little daily items, and right in the middle of the store was their popular pet department.

Mom and I always made a bee line there to see the rabbits, hamsters and turtles and take in the songs and squawks of the yellow canaries and various colored parakeets for sale. All these cute, first kid pets had a high turnover rate, but mom had her eye on one blue parakeet that lingered for months. And despite his cheerleading, the salesman could never convince anyone to take this one bird home.

Pretty Boy was not a very pretty bird, despite his eventual name.

Smaller than the other birds his age, he was missing feathers and wore a pronounced scar on the white crown of his forehead. So mom, ever the devoted animal lover and champion of underdogs decided that day this unloved orphan was coming home with us. The salesman was so ecstatic, he discounted everything we needed to bring him home.

The sales receipt read Parakeet…..99 cents.

.
.
It was only 10am as I watched the ashtray overflow with spent buts and another can of Schaefer bit the dust too. It became clear as I got older that Mom had quite the potty mouth. Pretty Boy only repeated what he heard, a loyal confidant when no one else was there to listen.

I heard a few, very choice words about my grandmother that morning.

Time has a way of dulling the sharp edges of our pain, and karma…well, it has it’s own mysterious timetable administering our just rewards. My grandmother was a hateful woman whose own psychosis and prejudice eventually alienated most of her sons too, there were very few tears shed from the few people that attended her funeral when she died.

It was hard not to notice that familiar warm spark return to her sienna brown eyes the more mom and I talked, that free spirited Irish spunk that was so much of her charm, and despite all she would eventually overcome in a life that never resembled her early romantic dreams, she always retained an empathy for all things living. Mom was a survivor, she persevered, she always did the right thing as best she could.

I’m grateful for inheriting the very best of who she was.

I watched her meticulously wrap Pretty Boy’s blue body in Saran Wrap, tearing thin strips of Daily News to line the cardboard match box he would be buried in. We would have a proper funeral for our little friend. And as she finished taping the edges with her usual care, she looked up mischievously making sure she caught my eye and whispered,

‘God damn shit…God damn shit… God damn shit.’

We both howled with laughter at the image of Pretty Boy thankfully chasing the wicked witch out of our lives that day, shaking our heads in awe that a little .99 bird had so much say in so many lives.

.

As much as this piece was intended to be written about Pretty Boy, the deeper I delved into the writing I realized the story was as much about my mom. So it only seemed fitting on this of all days, unplanned as it was to devote this conclusion to her. Somethings work out the way they should, somewhere mom is reading this story about our Pretty Boy, and

somewhere she’s flashing that impish grin….

021
click to enlarge

Happy Mother’s Day to all moms today!

The Bridge of Time and Promise

dear friends.. i felt the need to write some prose while i worked on the co write poems i mentioned in my last post, the song was chosen not for the title or video but for the close your eyes experience.
.
.
The Bridge of Time and Promise
.
.
Chaos was the default setting in my family. The earliest memory of my uncertain future, was me sitting in the sturdy chrome legged high chair that provided a perfect mezzanine level view of the kitchen table. From the relative safety of that private perch sitting plush as a prince behind my oversized formica tray, I could hear and see everything.

It was a cruel foreshadowing of how I would eventually view the world.

Wednesday meant spaghetti and meatballs for dinner, and not ’50’s style Americanized Chef Boyardee spaghetti either. No, not in our house. I can remember watching for hours while my mom made the meatballs, prepared the ingredients and slow cooked the deep red fragrant sauce on the stove. With her large spoon disappearing into the open topped aluminum pressure cooker to take a sip then dolloping some into my plastic bowl, I was a red saucy mess by dinnertime

Though I was much too young and preoccupied as curious kids are,
to understand exactly what all the words I heard actually meant, I knew something was amiss that night. Kids learn by repetition and it wasn’t until my personal spaghetti feast was suddenly interrupted by a very loud thwack followed by my father yelling at the top of his lungs, did I realize the words ‘not good enough’ was…uhm, not good.

From what I could gather, his ‘not good enough wife’ had once again tried to cook a ‘not good enough sauce’, not like his mother would make it and said sauce and spaghetti ended up on the ceiling in so furious a motion, my mom and I sat in stunned mouth agape awe.

Lost in my kid reverie of seeing something new for the very first time,
I don’t recall hearing the plate crash down on the table but the white porcelain shards were everywhere. The inevitable commotion and chaos trailed quickly down the hallway without so much as a glance from me, I just couldn’t take my eyes off that Rorschach red splatter on the low ceiling.

So there I sat in our little kitchen alone in my high chair, howling with laughter as one by one a spaghetti strand would peel away from the ceiling only to flutter and plop on the linoleum floor.

.
.
Apparently the spaghetti was cooked to perfection, al dente pasta will cling if you toss a strand on the ceiling; an old school trick I learned from my few years as a chef. The recipe is memorized now I’ve made it so many times though I wish just once, mom could have slow cooked
it for her grandchild. Shining that red saucy face grin, my daughter has been happily wearing that sauce since she was in her own high chair.

Mom deserved to live that memory… the world and our lives are less that she didn’t but the regret has tempered with time, and knowing mom would have been tickled that her recipe was still being savored.

And there is solace in knowing the weight of her life has lifted some,

that the generational abuse in our family finally ended with me…

a promise I whispered in my daughter’s ear

the miracle night she was born.

in whatever I have or may succeed,

I find joy in the vast and

tranquil oceans of her innocence.

and my life’s full reward

witnessing the budding dreams

of clean and open sky…

of song and flights of angels soaring…

of pure… in her adolescent eyes.
.
.
as the Universe intended.
.
.

echoes of Autumn…Tanka/Haiku

.
.
.
echoes of Autumn…
.
voices like leaves rustle and
.
scatter to the wind,
.
yet another poet’s pen
.
has sadly been set aside.
.
.
windy-leaves

.
.
a wordless farewell…

like the brightest leaves they fall
.
when their season calls.
.
but just as the memories

of true love always lingers,
.
.
.
creativity
.
and their inspired poetry
.
forever remain.
.
.
.
dedicated to thesilentfingers, Tanumoy Biswas,
Memoirs of a Dragon, cubby and Tiffany Coffman. ty, all.

let the world….

.
.
.

let the world do as it will…
.
what pale light lingers of endless Winter days
.
fades from these eyes averted,
.
far away from this reluctant silhouette’s
.
anonymous imprints in greying sidewalk slush.
.
.
.

let the world do what it has…
.
i measure my walk lightly here in frugal steps
.
and speak less amidst the throng,
.
not belonging where i don’t an eager
.
trade of so many years in such meager wisdom.
.
.
.

so let the world do what it must…
.
that our words and value lie less in volume
.
than in selfless devotion’s daily intent.
.
this grateful heart returns Home

warm with aromas of pine scented candles and

food so lovingly prepared,
.
the eclectic comfort of all we’ve collected
.
of familiar voices and heartbeats
.
and know there is no world i need but ours.
.
.
.
DSCN0856

December’s silent shroud

a song, video and words to explain my silence in December.
.
.

.
.
.
.

the too familiar turns and bends…
.
and statue still are the trees standing sentry tall
.
astride this white and weary Winter road,
.
my incessant journey of so many dreary and crippling seasons
.
recalling the somber memories etched decades deep
.
in gnarled bark and devoted wood.
.
.

how the infinite canopy arches in graceful bows,
.
laden branches kneel in gratitude to the peaceful sleep of snow.
.
i follow the trailing in frail voices of family i’ve lost,
.
of those i long to remember
.
swirling in the sliver of pause between
.
this world and another.
.
.

there is no hesitation in
.
passing through the Gate of Melancholia,
.
i wrap my solitude close in December’s silent shroud.
.
disowning my voice in sequestered quiet honoring memories now,
.
turning ever inward bowing in divine gratitude to those who
.
found me alone along this snowy road.
.
.
.
.