The Old Neighborhood
My mother found a job selling velour jumpsuits
to Cuban women at Judy's Outlet, long hours
and low pay. At a strip-mall pizza shop,
they short-changed every customer, me included,
then apologized for the simple mistake.
I waited one night in the parking lot, smashed
his face into the side mirror then groped his pockets
for what he had. Across the street from our house, a man
with a beautiful daughter shot his family. . . then himself.
A girl at a record store, for no reason at all, showed me her breasts.
My dad sold booze at ABC Liquor. At Christmas
a sailor on leave walked in and handed him $3000
to hold for the weekend. Just like that.
He fanned the bills on the kitchen table
like a sacrament, the answer to all our problems.
I thumbed the bills, shook them back and forth,
smelled and counted them, ruffled them against my ear.
We could have run away, packed up, and skedaddled back home
if not for my father holding close to his chest, his word.
Monday evening, the sailor returned. My father handed him
the thick roll. "Want to count it?"
The sailor shook his head no. Down the street
there was high school dropout trying to impress
the neighborhood kids, thinking it would be cool
to snort anti-freeze, which he did.
His lungs froze and he died on the sidewalk.