Tony Trigilio (Chicago, USA): Two Poems

SEEING THE DEAD


The oldest son of the family that lived next to the farm in Harborcreek, from the diabetes or the drinking. My mother’s next-door-neighbor Natasia -- whom we all called “Nastazeet” because that’s the only way my grandmother could pronounce it -- some infection Nasta picked up in the hospital. The obituaries were boring but my parents went to wakes, diligent and regular like installment payments. The surprise heart attack, the brother-in-law of someone who worked with my dad at the factory. I knew that guy from the shop; I have to see him. The cancer of the second cousin of my father’s first wife, the long illness of the woman who managed the supermarket where my mother worked before I was born -- she didn’t move from her couch those last couple years -- the quiet in-his-sleep of my parents’ former across-the-street neighbor when they lived on West 25th before their house burned down and they moved where I was born. I asked my father why he paid attention. You get older and the people you know -- you want to see them one last time. All the time, these wakes, the berserk obituary pages, drafty spars blowing through the window when the days got shorter. My father coming into the living room wearing a suit, sometimes a fedora -- really the only times I ever saw him wearing a tie -- the business in his eyes. We’ll be back in a couple hours. Your mother and I are going to see the dead. His gray knuckles readjust his tie.



FIRST SHIFT, CONTINENTAL RUBBER WORKS


He came home slick with it,
back from work before his English
lessons. A squall in the kitchen,
something seared. Knowledge of stink
even when the window was cracked.
Smokestack couple blocks away
going all the time, an angel chewing
its own folly, rock-hard in the cold,
oiled and ripened too long in the sun.
Rubber hoses, bicycle and car tires,
skinny ones on Model-Ts sticking
the mud until they knobbed
something solid. Rubber insulation

for Samuel Morse’s submarine cable,
New York Harbor, between the Battery
and Governor’s Island. Cracks
in the wire he patched with rubber,
Morse rowing along the channel --
the word slung into dashes and dots
from potter’s clay, black dust, and spittle.
Damp stagecoach passengers needed
waterproof clothing, their hands reached
for gloves: Samuel Morse unsealed the jar,
anointed himself. A one-eyed Jack
in a lightning storm, his glass insulators
along the railroad line to Baltimore.
He tapped the words What hath God
wrought!
along a wire wrapped in cloth
protected by two flat glass plates
rattled like saucepans in the wind,

pickling the air. He hung his clothes
in cellarways, my grandfather,
had to wear them again tomorrow.
His tantrum of rubber,
sap spinning the spokes of his eyes.
A wounded tree secretes it like butter.



© Tony Trigilio 2008