Audio & text:  concrete pastures of the beautiful bronx  part III

Click the triangle to listen to the poem while you read it.

roosevelt’s bust

a lean stern eyed sharp nosed

ivory fdr

dim alley window light

never open shade

railroad flat dining room

that green sofa

where nana will die

that sagging armchair

poppop supervising the yankees

black and white on the gray

long head short body

worn tube television

the table sturdy as

his smiling deathbed spirit

that maddens the priest

my cardboard circus

the crocheted lace tablecloth

sunday funnies and cereal box cutouts

my world is flat but very colorful

orphan annie and dondi

always survive

simmering spices waft

from grandmother’s kitchen

she smokes her cigar

she watches the stove

talks to dad alone

incomprehensible castilian

the tin ceiling yellow as chicken skin

soup slowly cooking

an aroma so divine

even statues hunger

mom roots and razzes

bronx cheers

italian damnations

spanish rhythms

grandfather’s laughter

such intonations of love

and baseball are universal

only god and government

and grandma’s recipe

for wonder remain

eternal mysteries

grand and great

grandchildren live in their photographs

the yanks win and lose

mantle’s knees bandaged

his bat healthy

the enameled pig smiles

a ceramic bellyful of thimbles

saved string and tomato pincushions

sideboard drawers of needlepoint and thread

arthritis stopped her stitchery

before i could remember

my elephants parade

amid clowns and acrobats

my awkward hands

topple ladies from white horses

while roosevelt

in honor atop

the parakeet and flower

embroidered doily

armlessly embraces history

on the knickknack buffet

the windup clock

ticks away the present

amid depression blue ashtrays

what a time it was

before i was born

in the beautiful bronx

pristine tenements

beflowered parks

free glassware at five cent

double feature movies

five cent trolleys

through well swept cobblestones

everything cost the nickel

no one had

neighbors thinned the stew

and shared

all night unlocked doors

at christmas santa left

love and best wishes

nothing to fear but hunger

and fascism

spreading across the old countries

new boots for new soldiers

new slogans new marches new weapons

ancient carnage

busby berkeley musicals

movietone news

austria ethiopia

guernica manchuria

a distant world looms

this nation of immigrants

will row row row

with roosevelt across oceans

of unforeseen future

what rendezvous with destiny

a generation of loyal youth

leave school to seek

honest work honest pay

cardboard fills the holes

in weary shoes which do not fit

poor feet are callused and crooked

our fathers’ toes never unfurl

the full belly

is the american dream


the legacy of greed

no feast will erase

memories of young hunger

the solemn inability of parents to provide

holiday lights seem distant as stars

one treeless christmas

father smashes saint nick

reindeer crumble

beneath the angry hammer

plaster dust paint chips childhood

beaten into the tablecloth

his lone protest in a lifetime of labor

tears are reserved

for the suffering of others

lindbergh’s baby

the hindenburg disaster

the iron man of baseball

retires and new york grieves

gehrig’s speech replays

cameras microphones

ashen faces

free dish theaters and free lunch bars

in the land of the free

the bund meets

in brook avenue back rooms

catholics jews wobblies

the roosevelts are suspect

unions rally in union square

police tail suspicious agitators

social justice may be blasphemy

against the economic pyramid

cops crack loiterers

nightsticks in broad daylight

free beer free apples free shoeshines

for the officer on the beat

city marshals evict the unfortunate

are not responsible for missing valuables

the fbi keeps files

even on eleanor

these are the good old days

so fondly remembered

strikeouts forgotten

home runs sail forever

into happy bleachers

prohibition prohibited

dutch schultz dead

all that beer and no money for drink

this nation thirsts for work

the cigar makers guild

extinguished by the economy

grandpa’s fingers have nothing to roll

farmless families head to california

jobless men wander through cities

free rent for the first month

the desperate move often

sons return to empty apartments

and angry landlords

friendly neighbors

whisper the new way home

the family endures

gathers together

the radio warm as a hearth

never lost never sold

fireside chats

sound effect serials

yankee slugfests

the young dream the old forget

baseball transcends history

for a while and the crowds cheer

roosevelt rides triumphant through the bronx

the working poor wave their hero

forever in the old photograph

tidy streets and stores

no gates no graffiti

aunt helen out her window

mother by the doorway

the tenements are the same

only the poverty has changed

all are immigrants and the immigrants are

fellow americans

compassion is nourished by despair

the war feeds those it does not destroy

pearl harbor bombs the consciousness

blue and gold stars hang in tenement windows

the bronx is a small part

of the great arsenal of democracy

defense contracts war bonds

ration books scrap metal drives

air raid drills in darkened streets

submarines offshore

enemy agents anywhere

loose lips sink ships

the shellshocked do not talk

sons leave sons return

if only in the dreams of mourners

wives work and wait and worry

my grandparents settle

in a railroad flat for the rest of their lives

freedom from want freedom from excess

social security working sons military paychecks

rent paid and food in the pot

the buffet fills with meager memorabilia

grandma’s soup remembers

meals that could not be

eight hours eighty years to cook

potatoes gold with spice

chicken melting in broth

time melts the flesh

fingers pale and wrinkled rub

my temples when i am ill

her magic fills all emptiness

with patient love

grandpa is a quiet man

a smile holding a pipe

my circus is a gift

cereal coupons she carefully saved

he watches whitey ford

laughs at clowns between innings

i am the portly ringmaster

tigers are hungry lions roar

loud as times square on victory day

the poor and lousy umpires

are always among us

roosevelt’s bust commemorates

the promise of america

the hero who does not survive

the great war he wins

korea vietnam the gimcrackery grows

the beginnings of wars never end

eliot ness chases criminals on late evening reruns

hoover hunts pacifists

spies upon kennedy and king

the invincible heroes are long dead

modern heroes are slain

in slow motion nightly news replays

we are empty of tears

roger maris is no bambino

mother knows the future

is never as good as the past

never again will i taste such soup

the future is death

the past a golden dream

pain digested fun remembered

in words in wonder in silent vision

and in dreams when i wander

through the shadows of that apartment

for one more hug one more smile

one more succulent mouthful

of youth of love

never again will i feel so safe

so afraid of those eyes staring through history

watchful as an eagle

i am what i never could imagine

i have seen america forsake the forgotten

feed the rich starve the poor

people die people die

but no man may abolish memory

no hellfire may kill

human consciousness

the blue ashtrays sit

in mother’s kitchen

i have grown i have gone

the embroidery will be given

to my children when i die

and the words i forge with mortal hands

nana held my hand

so tightly her fingers seemed young

she lay on the avocado herringbone couch

rolled over and died the next day

poppop months later in lincoln hospital

rolling his eyes while priest

and pentecostal vied for his soul

the priest fed his ears

the pentecostal filled his belly

in hungry times

death won and he smiled

the yankees lost but we did not care

closets of yellowed magazines

cupboards of dishes but no one was hungry

knickknacks and photographs

lifetimes of possessions scattered and gone

my circus lost in the tears of adolescence

in my grandparents’ apartment

amid cheers and feasts

and the fragrance of nostalgia

roosevelt’s lost bust stares like remembered love

concrete pastures of the beautiful bronx is available as an e-publication from Smashwords:


roosevelts bust