“Pilgrimage” by Tony Gloeggler

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Tony Gloeggler

PILGRIMAGE

Think of the time you flew
into Albuquerque, the drive
from the airport, flat thirsty
red-brown land spreading
in all directions, a snow-capped 
mountain sitting on the horizon,
the adobe village, an old Navajo 
driving a creaky bus uphill, 
reciting rehearsed facts, wounded 
jokes meant for white folks
as the sun blistered down on ancient
dwellings haunted by ghosts 
of dry-boned medicine men,
young women who fled to the city,
bread frying over a high flame.

The faded purple Acamo t-shirt
is now tucked in your bottom 
drawer. You were taking a breath, 
running from your most recent 
heart wreck, trying to learn 
what it would mean to leave 
behind a boy, Jesse, you treated
as your only son, some future
you dreamed of building. After
learning how deep a night could grow
without New York City lights,
you woke early and drove hours
to stand in line with shuffling, hunched-
over old women who twisted,
entwined strings of black beads
in their fingers as Japanese tourists
dangled cameras from their necks.

You sat in a back pew, watched 
the women light candles, kneel, 
then fervently trace the sign
of the cross while you remembered
the legend of a bursting hillside 
light and a local priest finding
the miraculous crucifix
of Our Lord of Esquipulos
in the famished ground, 
carrying it to Santa Cruz, 
only to have it disappear 
three times and return 
unexplainably to the place 
it was first discovered. 

You ducked into the sacristy,
the sacred sand pit, its walls
lined and cluttered with discarded 
braces and crutches, hand-
made shrines attesting 
to its many miracles. 
As women with tears shining
on grateful faces prayed, 
you grabbed a fistful of dust, 
placed it in a see-through 
sandwich baggie, slipped it 
into the shirt pocket covering
your heart, and later hid it 
in your satchel for the flight home.

Further back, you’re the first son 
of your family’s second generation 
born in America. Grandparents, uncles, 
aunts and cousins celebrated
your every breath as God’s 
gracious gift until you turned
four years old and your legs
grew into heavy, dead weight
that hurt anytime you walked 
anywhere. Your parents, fearing 
polio like your Uncle Dom,
went to early morning masses,
lit green novena candles 
and started collecting money 
to send you on a pilgrimage
to Lourdes. Doctors took countless
tests, kept you in a hospital
for six months where nuns
somberly patrolled the halls
and the kid in the next bed, 
an orphan, with one wooden leg, 
one wooden arm, and a pirate hook 
for a hand, somehow had the same
last name as yours. Your parents
brought both him and you gifts,
talked of taking him home too
as you grew sick with jealousy.
When they finally gave a label
to your disease, they cured it
with a Frankenstein boot, 
a leg brace and hours,
months of physical therapy
that made you stick out,
a cripple, separated from the rest
of the neighborhood kids
and the money was spent
on a station wagon to drive
back and forth to clinic visits.

Then yesterday, after a technician 
with a hard-to-understand
Russian accent kept asking you
to breathe in, breathe out, 
hold it, now breathe regularly
while tracing, rubbing 
a tiny camera over your chest 
and belly in a chilly room 
for too long, the cardiologist 
proclaimed your aorta was too
wide, susceptible to a rupture 
that could instantly kill you 
like the actor who starred 
in that crappy seventies sitcom
Three’s Company. He described
the procedure, the high rate 
of success and the surgeon 
as a miracle worker with hands 
like God, an enlightened plumber, 
replacing a pipe, tightening a valve. 

Stunned by the news, you sat
silently. On the subway home, 
you remembered the actor’s name,
John Ritter, and remembered
how good he was in Sling Blade 
and you wished that you still 
believed in any kind of God 
sometimes. You wished 
you didn’t have to tell your mom
or miss another visit with Jesse,
wished you remembered a plumber 
other than Dan Akyroyd bent 
beneath an overflowing sink 
on a lonely Saturday night, 
the crack of his ass peeking 
over the top of his pants, 
poised for the next straight line, 
laughing at you for ever
feeling indestructible, safe.

from Rattle #48, Summer 2015
Tribute to New Yorkers

[download audio]

__________

Tony Gloeggler: “A life-long resident of NYC, I was born in Brooklyn but left with my family during the white flight of the ’60s. I grew up in Flushing, now live in Richmond Hill, and helped open a group home for developmentally disabled kids in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, decades before the quasi cool hordes moved in with their bars and restaurants, laptops, nannies and doggies to mess up one more fine NY neighborhood. Writing started out for me as the place where I got my thoughts and feelings down when I had no other place to bring them. It is still that place, the place I go to first when I’m trying to figure things out, way before I can say something to either myself or anyone else. I wrote this one after some bad, out of nowhere, overwhelming medical news and connected it to times when I remembered feeling very similar. Then after working it out, making it feel as right and true as I could I gave it some air and showed it around, read it out loud …”



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“I Wore This Dress Today for You, Mom” by Kim Dower

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Kim Dower

I WORE THIS DRESS TODAY FOR YOU, MOM,

breezy floral, dancing with color
soft, silky, flows as I walk
Easter Sunday and you always liked

to get dressed, go for brunch, “maybe
there’s a good movie playing somewhere?”
Wrong religion, we were not church-goers,

but New Yorkers who understood the value
of a parade down 5th Avenue, bonnets
in lavender, powder blues, pinks, hues

of spring, the hope it would bring.
We had no religion but we did have
noodle kugel, grandparents, dads

who could fix fans, reach the china
on the top shelf, carve the turkey.
That time has passed. You were the last

to go, mom, and I still feel bad I never
got dressed up for you like you wanted me to.
I had things, things to do. But today in L.A.— 

hot the way you liked it—those little birds
you loved to see flitting from tree to tree—
just saw one, a twig in its mouth, preparing 

a bed for its baby—might still be an egg,
I wish you were here. I’ve got a closet filled
with dresses I need to show you. 

from Rattle #48, Summer 2015
Tribute to New Yorkers

[download audio]

__________

Kim Dower: “I grew up on the upper west side of Manhattan—89th off Broadway—in ‘The Party Cake Building,’ apartment 6D, when NYC was still a place for middle class families, not just a city for the rich. I was the handball champion of the street, Benny’s hotdog stand and the New Yorker Bookstore on one side, Murray the Sturgeon King around the corner, rode my bike through Riverside Drive when I was ten (no helmets back then), went to the first ‘Be-In’ in Central Park. Though I’ve lived in Los Angeles for decades, my memories of New York sounds, smells, tastes, people, adventures continue to influence my poems. When I was a little girl I thought that only ‘TV families’ lived in houses. I never knew anyone with a yard, a ‘den,’ or a basement.” (website)



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“At Jury Duty” by Coco de Casscza

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Coco de Casscza

AT JURY DUTY

At jury duty
        Calvin Trillin 
                told me eating 
                        at Chanoodle 
                                would change 
                                       the way I think 
                                                about fried rice 

                                                                  I tried it

                                                But still I think 
                                        about fried rice 
                                the way I did 
                        before except 
                it always makes 
        me think of 
Calvin Trillin

from Rattle #48, Summer 2015
Tribute to New Yorkers

[download audio]

__________

Coco de Casscza: “My aunt, landing first time at JFK, took the subway in then out again, not pausing to not be appalled at all she saw and heard and smelled that made me stay.” (website)



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“Neighbor” by Bill Christophersen

Bill Christophersen

NEIGHBOR

Thanksgiving Day, 1983.

Tom, Debra and I are sitting down to the
meal she’s cooked when, she, a Lutheran
minister, remembers Mr. Breuer next door
in 2A. He lost his wife two weeks ago
to cancer; it seems the neighborly thing
to ask him in to share the meal. Grief
has tenderized his face. He doesn’t talk,
pushes a fork through the sweet potato squash.
The bruise on his arm resolves, on second glance,
into numbers. Yes, he says, he’d been interned.
Buchenwald. He’d survived. But what, he asks,
is this “survive”? Is survive that your body
is here, gets up, goes to window, goes to toilet,
makes tea, makes toast? “Shovel this latrine,
Jew,” the German soldier says. “So give
me shovel,” I says. “There is no shovel,
Jew,” he says. “Use your hands.” And so, is
true, Femmie and me survive, he says, crying.

from Rattle #48, Summer 2015
Tribute to New Yorkers

__________

Bill Christophersen: “My native Bronx burned down in the ’70s, beginning about the time I moved to Manhattan (1971). Every summer night in 1976, 1977, the fire engine sirens would begin about sundown—I’d hear them and see the smoke across the Harlem River. Before the decade was out, much of the borough I and my classmates had grown up in looked like post-World War II Dresden. Packs of wild dogs roamed the streets of Hunts Point. Morrisania and Mott Haven were, except for the housing projects, mostly rubble lots and the shells of charred tenements. This history has little to do with my poem ‘Neighbor’ but much to do with who I am and what I write.”



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“Hold Me Like You’ll Never Let Me Go” by Susana H. Case

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Susana H. Case

HOLD ME LIKE YOU’LL NEVER LET ME GO

In the street, I find an acoustic guitar,
no name on it, so I decide it’s mine and
learn some chords from
a pretty boy ten years younger
whom I retrieve from a SoHo party.

He plays in a garage band. He likes
my long, ironed-straight hair, how I
remove my clothes, their erratic cuts,
easy to toss onto a chair. For a week
we don’t leave the apartment.

He makes no plans to go home, but home
is Sweden, so that’s understandable.
I strum and roam through rooms,
feeling like a folk goddess.
I’m leavin’ on a jet plane, I sing.

You ever spend a whole week naked, talking
about nothing but folk rock? But then 
we run out of food and being with him begins
to seem like shoplifting. You ever do that,
take what you want just to see how it feels?

from Rattle #48, Summer 2015
Tribute to New Yorkers

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__________

Susana H. Case: “I am one of the few people I know in NYC who was born here and when I consider all the possibilities, how lucky was that? I found an academic job and stayed. My most recent book is 4 Rms w Vu, and yes, New Yorkers are obsessed with their apartments (sometimes houses): finding them, keeping them, coping with their neighbors, landlords, etc. It’s hard to know how I’d be writing if I hadn’t grown up here and remained, or even if I’d be writing, but without sidewalks as my encyclopedia, my words would probably have less of an edge. I’d probably sound nicer. I might even be nicer, but I don’t really believe that. I know I wouldn’t have written ‘Hold Me Like You’ll Never Let Me Go.’”



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