‘such a pretty pretty boy!’

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

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for Mom
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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.

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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.

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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….

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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.
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The Bridge of Time and Promise
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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.

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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.
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as the Universe intended.
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shoots and wings, thresholds and thank you’s

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i woke today to an earlier light,

slicing sun… between wooden blinds.

Spring soil…it shifts and yearns

in shy murmurs… of shoots and wings.

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how the wind is alive

with the long forgotten calls

of weary immigrant birds,

floating currents… returning home.

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and maybe… my day is here

to shed this curfew of skin and doubt,

finally… free myself forward

shutter eyes that lurk behind my head.

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let my instinct… map a ready sky,

a fragile trust and mysterious as flight.

let unfurl… these inadvertent wings

and surrender my will to each unknown.

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there is stubborn in my bones

a rain worn feather remains as resolute,

and how much fear… i’ve let fly

oh, sweet wing of creation… take me home.
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thresholds
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When I began this little blog a year ago, I had such meager and modest expectations that anyone would pay any attention to what was being written here, let alone take the time to leave a comment because of something I happened to write.

I wrote short stories then, a memoir of sorts, recollections of a kid from a troubled family living in a poor and forsaken neighborhood in Brooklyn. And that’s all I had plans to write until I just happened to see a link to a poetry site on someone’s blog. It was the first week of April, and just happened to be the first week of National Poetry Month.

I still can’t explain what compelled me to submit a poem, I’d only written one until then just a few months earlier. But I did, flying by the seat of my proverbial pants, against every fear and anxiety I wrote renewal. I was so heartened and overwhelmed by the response, I wrote another.

And the rest, as they say is history.

But I believe our history is a living thing, and so very humbly here I am… 150 poems later. This past week this little blog surpassed 16,000 page views and recorded its 5000th comment and on days like this when I sit back and reflect on this profound improbability, I have to clunk myself in the head with the heal of my hand in a “I shoulda’ had a V8′ moment to make sure this isn’t a dream.

Me, who feared poetry all his life… is now obsessed with its writing.
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shoots and wings
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And now I think it’s time to ‘unfurl these inadvertent wings’, cast aside the fear and doubt and accept the gifts that are being presented. In the coming weeks and months I’ll be busy with some collaborations and personal projects I wanted to tell you about.

A dear friend and most talented writer Bianca (B.G. Bowers) is dedicating her blog for the entire month of April to invited guest poets and challenges. She has very graciously asked me to participate, and I was honored to accept. On April 20th my poems will be featured and I’m really excited at the prospect. Thank you again Bianca.

In the next few weeks, 3 poets who are held in very high regard for personal and important reasons, and I will be working on co written poems. The themes of each of these poems are so dramatically different, the challenges will likely take us all to places we haven’t been before. With the enormous energy and talent these poets possess, I have no doubt co writing these poems will be an exciting and rewarding creative experience and I thank them all for this opportunity.

When you have a chance please visit
Melanie (Wordifull) Chloe (Sirena Tales) and teardropsofink

And lastly, many of you might remember that this past summer I was invited to apply for residency to the Ragdale Artist Retreat. Considering the prestigious alumni that have and still spend time there, it is an honor for me to even be considered. I’ve hesitated to apply because the one requisite the board asks you to have, is a worthy goal, something you can or want to achieve while you are there. I didn’t…until now.

In a recent comment thread with my wonderful new poet friend Nomzi (Nomzi Kumalo), she mentioned that she’d like to have a collection or a book of some of her favorite poems of mine. And of course I gave her my standard ‘oh I’ve never had the dream or desire to be published’ response. She hasn’t been the first friend to tell me this…

well… I finally got the courage to ask ‘why not a book?’

So I will apply now and whether I get accepted to Ragdale or not, a book will be self published in the coming months. I do have a tentative title ‘poems of Hope from a wounded heart‘, and dear Chloe has so graciously accepted to write an introduction. Thank you Nomzi for the spark and thank you Chloe for being generous with your valuable time. Love and Hugs to you both!
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thank you all
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And of course none of this would have or could have happened without all of you, who have read this poetry of mine and written so many profoundly heartfelt and encouraging comments. And a very special thanks to Melissa Hassard and the 20 Lines a Day community.

What an incredible gift this Circle of Encouragement is!

so ty, ty, ty, from the bottom of this very grateful heart.

Love and Hugs to you all!

little ladybug…..Haiku

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little ladybug
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‘little ladybug
there’s nothing to fear from me,
i mean you no harm.’

‘my mom taught me well
to respect all living things,
she had a big heart.’

…i miss her a lot…
‘we had a praying mantis
come to our window

for one whole summer,
and eat lettuce she fed it…
i would watch in awe

as it ate each leaf…
i can’t remember the name
that i chose for it,’

…where has the time gone…?
‘but i remember the eyes
moving all around….’
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‘little ladybug,
you can stop being scared now.
i was just reaching

for my ice cold glass
of delicious lemonade,
and it’s homemade too!

can you continue
to do your little dance on
the rim of my glass?

when you raise your wings,
is it the sugar you like?
or are you in love?

little ladybug,
i’ll just pour another one
’cause we have plenty.’

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my encounter with little ladybug happened on the farm,
while i was sitting by myself at the picnic table.

the praying mantis came to our kitchen window everyday
for an entire summer. i was six and my mom would lift
me onto the counter, so i could watch it eat.

Sunday Prose…A Rabbit Rides a Fixie

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‘Hey, what’s goin’ on boys?

and the chorus responded
simultaneously,

‘Rabbt!’

‘Did everyone get a slice of that
Wall Street press release last night?
I got 12, 31 runs for the day.’

‘Whoa, 31? That beats me, I don’t know
how you keep doing it Rabbit.’

John always had a knowing wry smile, and a lot to say just behind what he didn’t tell you. I liked him and we broke the code a few times talking about stuff, real stuff. He was educated and even had a Masters but for some reason his life became unraveled and he fell through the cracks.

‘Watch out for those cabbies Rabbit.’

A smallish guy, John was a longtimer, an easy conversationalist and very steady, never got too high or too low, never complained or made mistakes either and he always arrived at the coffee shop before anyone else.

I don’t remember him ever taking a day off.

This was important to all of us superstitious types which meant all eight of our clique, because it was with John that we began our daily ritual just before walking up the stairs to the dispatch office, just after downing all our rocket fuel, of placing our palms on the image of his well worn shirt for good luck.

‘Thanks John, see ya’ tomorrow morning,
and keep outta’ those potholes!’

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We would gather every week day morning under the tattered forest green and white trimmed canvas awning of the corner coffee shop, the classic shop keeper’s awning that was rolled down each day by hand announcing the store open for business. The street level take out window would slowly squeek open, and one by one we click click clicked over to get our coffee and donuts, the caffiene jolt and white sugar rocket fuel excuse for a nutritious breakfast.

As if hurtling at 30 mph through the choked arteries that passed for streets in Manhattan, as if being clipped into your pedals squeezing through shoulder width lanes of erratically moving trucks and cars, as if suddenly stopping your brakeless fixed gear bike and saving your life avoiding a dive bombing cabbie gunning his beat up yellow cab directly at you, as if all this wasn’t enough of a high alert, fight or flight crackling adrenaline current to sustain us through the day.

No, we didn’t really need
the rocket fuel at all.
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What we needed was the 7:30 pre work ‘us against them’ comaraderie, we needed to take a head count and bodily injury check, we needed to outdo each other’s ‘damn i’m lucky i’m alive’ steaming asphalt street war horror stories of the day before, we needed to confirm a hierarchy by comparing completed tickets and how many extra pay, triple rush runs we did, we needed to bitch about the office creeps who would treat us bike messengers like crap, as if there was a speedier way to get someone a super urgent letter in Manhattan in the pre fax days of 1988.

Believe me, there wasn’t. Nothing was faster than a triple rush driven, fearless guy on a bike navigating through the impossibly crowded and often lawless jungle of Manhattan.

We knew it and so did the resentful office creeps who despised being so dependent on sweat soaked social misfits wearing skin tight black biking shorts arriving suddenly at their desk, knowing that in a good week we cleared more in our paycheck than they did. In 1988, $600-$700 a week could buy you an awful lot of rocket fuel, a decent living as long as you stayed alert and alive.

The group of us that met each morning were the top earners in our office, we were a tight bunch of 8 youngish guys, all skilled cyclists and most of us raced in club races in Central Park on the weekends, myself included. We all had our story, a reason why we were bike messengers instead of following more socially acceptable career paths, instead of utilizing the diplomas most of us had earned and I learned quickly there was an unspoken code that those stories were just never spoken about, an impenetrable male bravado veneer shielding any and all percieved vulnerability. I willingly complied.

I also learned, after being invited into
this elite clique after my first day, that
those invitations were rare. In the two
years I spent riding my black fixie no one
else was asked in, but then again, no one
else had a first day of work like I did either.
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On a day when over half our crew didn’t or couldn’t make it to work, on a day that you were better off and safer at home, on a day that the wind blew blizzrd like heavy wet snow flakes sideways into your eyes, on my birthday in late January, I trundled up the one flight of stairs with my snow encrusted bike to the dispatchers desk and reported for work.

It was a ridiculous day to be on a bike, but after spending the entire day struggling to even see where I was going, I completed all the runs I was given. They were late, but they were completed.

My reputation was cemented that snowy day.

I was in.

‘This is Rabbit, what do ‘ya got for me?’

‘Holy crap! You finished all the runs I gave you alreasdy?’

‘Yeah, yeah, yeah! C’mon, what do you got?’

‘Jesus!…ok, come in, I’m giving you 12 rush press releases for Wall Street.’

By midsummer, after throwing myself headlong and headfirst into this new job, this new life threatening daily adventure, and throwing every caution I ever had to the place dark in my mind where such things go to be ignored, I had consistently and stubbornly become the top earner.

I was no longer who I thought I was, no longer who I was running from, an identity slipping slowly, imperceptively into a fading numb anonymity.

I was just Rabbit, a nickname
made official by my dispatcher
which meant everyone had to use it.

And that suited me just fine.
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And as I listened to the dire warnings about the oncoming snowstorm that January morning, as I stared numbly from my second floor window in the Brooklyn Heights duplex where I lived, as I considered what it would take to ride over the Brooklyn Bridge to get to the office on 24th and Broadway, I consciously made a decision most people in their right mind wouldn’t.

But I was on a mission, a journey to erase what I couldn’t face, to forget what I didn’t want to remember….so down the two flights of stairs and out the heavy oak doors and down the brownstone stoop I walked.

The snow was blowing so heavy and hard, I could barely see the arch at the mouth of Prospect Park just across the street, undeterred I rode off with my brand new bright red messenger bag slung over my shoulders and a pocket full change for phones, the public phones that littered almost every corner then.

A lifeline for a quarter.
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to be continued….