saint marys park: a sequence of six poems

fuzzy caterpillars

dont play with fuzzy caterpillars

warns the old woman

black hat black dress

wrinkled cheeks drooping brow

she does not sweat

in the summer sun

she knits

she looks us in the eye

never misses a stitch

never misses an eye

she sits

at the entrance to everywhere

the tenement stoop

the grocery

the park

huddled on a bench

the promenade beneath the flag

where once flowers grew

youll get pimples

you play with fuzzy caterpillars

we nod politely

she says nothing more

our mothers say hello

and that is all

she smiles

and that is all

we laugh inside

three cousins young with summer

she smiles she knows

we don’t give a damn about pimples

or old women

this is america

not the old country

we are three cousins young with summer

what does anyone older than ten

know about anything

we play on fields worn

by scrimmage and baseball

rocks erode with the climbing

we gather catalpa pods

in sacrificial piles

tear them and scatter the seeds

which will not grow for the mowing

we chase each other through wooded paths

reenacting television manhunts

and play with the fuzzy caterpillars

walking them on sticks and fingers

saint mary’s park

is a world beyond the immediate

we are immortal

for a while

beyond maroon bricked buildings

with treeless courtyards

and streets amuck with screaming youth

here there are no consequences

to actions

we do not reap what we sow

heroes and villains reincarnate

teams win forever

to invisible cheers

glory and great parks

are fruits of the imagination

there is nothing to fear

but dinner time

on the third day we awaken

to pimples

red bellies pink thighs

which fade quicker than memory

even our mothers are surprised

butterflies scare us more than bees

was it the fuzz

or the caterpillar

or a moth’s lesson

we wonder

but not for long

we take stones

and destroy anthills

you’ll make it rain

if you kill ants

mother warns

but we know that mud

drives night crawlers from their holes

and what are worms but catalpa pods

with wiggle and blood

slime sometimes

but no fuzz

the sun is a rash

in the graying sky

the old woman knits

the needles crackle

like lightning

at the entrance

to thunder

lost playgrounds

the small playground is nearly empty

our mothers worry as they chat

the longtime sisters

remember moonlight dances

the band in the gazebo

twilight softball games

on diamonds where now gamblers play

fenced gardens

no walking on the grass

irish police with billy clubs

protecting flowers from italians

the rules are quite lax now

at night the park is a wilderness

more frightening than dreams

solitude is unsafe as a mob

we are herded to the main playground

a frenzy of children

shriek in the sprinkler

sing on swings

bicker on see saws

hoot on monkey bars

in the courts beyond

retired italians play boccie

we are lost in play

our mothers lost in gossip

the boccie players lost

in memories of the old days

the polish lady

lost in her knitting

the caterpillars

lost in metamorphosis

the catalpa seeds lost

in america’s machinery

somewhere our fathers

are lost in work

they are quiet men

who have forgotten how to scream

lost to them

the summer afternoons

they sweat to give us

the hot sun

the cool water

the rainbow sensations

of young flesh

the growing hunger

we do not yet realize

the seasons before

the fall sun is low

the shadows long

late sunday afternoon

the churches are closed

nana’s soup

waits in the pot

i walk with my father

flat feet

trench coat

brimmed hat

like a television detective

a stereotype

he never denied

not bad for a bank clerk

the wind blows

through reddening maples

the seasons before computers

replace brains

and drugsters chase

the last kids from the park

before semiautomatic teens

prowl the hopelessness that is america

four youths wielding

broomsticks and a bowling pin

emerge from the sunset

i am too young to be afraid

and dad too old

that’s a nice bowling pin

i say to no one

that’s a nice bowling pin

dad says to the big one

the kid hands it to him

they run off into the twilight

red and white and scratched

i set it as the centerpiece

of grandma’s table

luscious as her stew

it remains in my room

my favorite trophy

of the long ago time when

we are father and son together

on a field in the bronx highlands

strong and cool as

the autumn wind

the seasons before i learn

we are not immortal


down dead man’s hill

on a washing machine cover

white enamel

white snow

slick as

white lightning

i lose my mind

in december air

or is it my body

i feel light

as a snowflake

tiny and distant as stars

dad waits

at the bottom of the hill

no i cannot keep

the sleek square

this white rosebud

must remain a gift

to some humble child

who has not planned

on ecstasy

and speeds down the ridge

like a meteor

to land in the bronx

and rise again

the spontaneity of fun

amid the desperate tenements

father waits patiently

i brush snow

off sunday pants

we had not expected

this wandering

we walk home

in quiet darkness

together in the cold

flesh and blood

we climb the approach to janes’ hill

his mansion lost

the foundry forgotten

how wondrous to live among the trees

to cast iron for the world

the capitol dome

the savannah fountain

to sell dragons and lions to china

and live unafraid above mott’s haven

when parks were unnecessary

the slope is a cowboy movie mountain

i never knew

my father could climb rocks

never knew

i could climb anything

i follow his fingers

holding narrow crevices

too amazed to be afraid

he does all this

wearing a sports jacket and dress shoes

there is no work today

he must have been some kid

heroes never brag about the past

don’t say much about the present

at the top we stand like warriors

waiting for a dream vision

the sky is blue beyond

the clouds which roll to the eastern sea

my father is a man of flesh and blood

a modest life a modest death

the bronx grass growing green

over fields and graves

he is the man who made me

the man who gives me life

the trees of saint mary’s

buildings die and factories leave

the neighborhood moves

to yonkers or jersey

new neighborhoods arrive

move in move on

across seas and streets

humans flit to certain futures

bronx boulevards lead

to mainland usa

farms platted and wilderness farmed

history a forgotten

flowerless cemetery

the present is suburban sitcom

its poverty subliminal

this park is the lingering wealth

of an ancient earth

even street signs are mortal

discarded is the decorum

of enamel letters in curved frames

lost the love of here

the elegance of street

historic avenue names on rectangles

are reflections to the lost

dead are the myths of their creation

dead the carvers of roads

dead the weckquasgeeks the siwanoy

their long houses long buried

saint ann’s churchyard

the last remains of morris manor

the subway station’s tile initials

a mere hint of mott haven

art nouveau street lamps

ornate traffic signals

vanished with the cobblestones

mercury lamps glow

like sullen moons

lightpoles are bare and modern

blighted forests of urban childhood

the past is lost

the future is sold

the trees of saint mary’s

are sad as mothers

who have lost their sons

i too will grow away

the trees have roots

sturdier than housing projects

older than tenements

their limbs are prayers on the wind

there is comfort in

those open arms

fires and evictions

redevelopment and decay

seasons of brick and rubble

mother raises me

in the apartment where her parents died

these are the sturdy limbed trees

she knew as a child

she shares them with me

we sit on a bench

of concrete and wood

carvings of long ago romance

submerged in paint

amid splinters

of new love

here retirees rest from long labor

beside shopping bags

of wool and pigeon feed

and bottle babies gurgle

from rocking strollers

breastfeeding has vanished

in the civil rights era

this year’s leaves

are green with july

the sky hot with noon

the main concourse

of saint mary’s park

on the cypress ridge

in the shade

the same sun

the same trees

the same shade

she walked as a girl with her father

he loved to walk

she loves to walk

i love the trees

the depth of their darkness in the light

i love to walk

through the bronx as she knew it

the ice cream cart

has jingle bells

is christmas in summer

to young mouths

she buys me

what she could not have

when she sunday strolled

through the great depression

with her father

his youngest hope

his little charmer

there were puppet shows

and outdoor movies

no sound

but birds and crickets

the bond of child

and parent never forgotten

the thrill of evening breeze

on the rocks of dead man’s hill

they sat together

the wonders of america

flickered before innocent eyes

cowboys villains cops crooks

heroes got their men

ladies kissed their heroes

america seemed orderly

as the circling stars

cobblestones glowed like broadway

and on the walk home

the apartment lights

sparkled with hope

there will be work

there will be food

immigrant streets safe

as the old country

the apartment is crowded with sleep

imagine what shadows

the trees cast in moonlight

i am her only child

in a changing world

she cannot give me

the freedom of her childhood

there are no trolley tracks

to follow to the palisades

no fish in the polluted waters

children who wander

may never return

this is the age

of guns and butter

the rich have the butter

the poor have the guns

death in the jungles

death on the streets

in the age of prosperity

hope erupts to despair

beyond the reach of our hands

the squirrel eats peanuts

his wariness is rhythmic

two bites and a glance

two bites and a glance

presidents and ministers

are not safe in america

two glances and on to the next nut

there are nuts everywhere

mother says

but here the sky is blue and the shade is cool

the benches are lined with drowsy mothers

old women knit winter sweaters

old men throw seed to the birds

they smile like benevolent kings

throwing coin to peasants

startled by a toddler’s enthusiasm

the squirrel scurries for the safety of the trees

time stops sometimes on summer afternoons

conversation blurs in the heat

distant as the whine of cicada

the rustle of breeze

through the invisible doorway we emerge

beyond history and abstraction

to the body and blood

we are

parent and child

forever connected

forever safe

in this womb of trees

floating in a surf of sky

a baby cries and we

are ourselves

who is this woman

who loves me

who will not let me out of her sight

until the waves of seasons

push me into the world

what does she think

pushing me ceaselessly on swings

does she wonder when

i will fly away

does she walk

again through her youth

roaming the bronx with her brothers

does she stroll arm in arm

with father through their long friendship

or simply contemplate dinner

this is the first playground

of the bronx its asphalt skin

is cracked and gray

children are busy

with childhood

there is nothing but this moment

of fun

here the poor forget hunger

here the meek are not afraid

here the sad are lost in laughter

the innocent times before gangs

graffiti the rocks

before the sun is malignant

and the moon a mere golf course

there is nothing but

the exhilaration of life

gravity cannot hold us

we are seeds on the wind

sent forth from timeless trees

the falling from youth

seems eternal

the flight of maple wings

the plunge of acorn and pod

we land in the green world of infinite summer

the trees will not grow old

the trees will keep us forever safe

in the shade of knowledge and life

saint mary’s park is heaven on earth

hell is the streets where we suffer and die

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

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

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


fuzzy caterpillars

lost playgrounds

the seasons before


flesh and blood

the trees of saint mary’s