Sundays, the five of us would pile
into the wagon to eat dinner
at my grandmother’s Brooklyn flat.
Traffic on the Belt drove my mother nuts,
but it never bothered him. He’d escaped
Brooklyn poverty, Black Forest battles
and a German sniper – the rest of life, he liked to say,
was a gift. He loved his clichés almost as much
as he loved our town, his paradise on earth.
Our street’s nearly identical
homes; our feeble vegetable garden fallen
victim, he said, to a salt water table;
his runs to Waterfront Park, the briny breeze
mixing with fresh-baked bread from the Bellaciccos’
delivery truck and whatever Lou Teller used
to polish his van. This was 1969.
My mother could never understand why
he didn’t want to leave, go where the homes
were nicer, the schools better, and other men –
not just my father, a teacher – wore a tie to work.
I can still see the twist of her mouth, the flash
in her eyes, when cars stalled on the Belt,
horns piercing thick air. He’d reach across,
pull his harmonica from the glove box,
and urge us to sing.