But I Was Young
I used to believe in neighborhoods like this
neon signs advertising liquor stores,
Christmas lights lashed
to the doorframe, a grid of fire escapes
in place for safe exit, just in case. When summer
struck, someone’s father grabbed
a monkey wrench and turned and turned it until
ice water flowed to the shimmering streets,
rushed the gutters, our block awash in color
like an enormous grape popsicle
melting in the throat. But now it’s December and light
is low in windows. Candles are lit
for Hanukkah, Festivus poles and Christmas trees
forever green facing the glow
of television screens, my mother’s oven warm
with rising dough, bronze slabs
of gingerbread hard on the kitchen counter.
I used to want to believe
in places like this, but I was young. Can you make
out the tree standing there like a traffic
cop, its wiry arm outstretched in the universal
sign for hello? Maybe, if you look
closer, use just a bit less imagination,
it’s really saying help.
for Julie Weiss
Before or after the splitting headache? Before or after
the kids are in the bath? Before or after the heart attack?
Before or after I’ve told them Santa Claus is a myth
to get them to behave? Before or after the baby Jesus
suckles the she-wolf’s teat? Before or after his mother
beats him with a stick for stealing a treat ere the Last
Supper? Before or after the pains in my left ventricle
begin to signal? Before or after the Black Friday decals
are stripped from shop windows, the nativity scenes
assembled? Before or after the Lord’s circumcision? When
exactly do we begin what we keep putting off until death do
us part? When shall I tear the labels off the mattresses, pound
the tablets into dust, throw the skateboard against
the blameless wall? Before or after I write this poem?
Before or after the umpteenth bill is paid, my back
taxes? Before or after the seas have swallowed up Venice?
Before or after I finish Berlin Alexanderplatz?
Marc Alan Di Martino is a Pushcart-nominated poet, translator and author of the collection Unburial (Kelsay, 2019). His work appears in Baltimore Review, Rattle, Rust + Moth, Tinderbox, Valparaiso Poetry Review and many other journals and anthologies. His second collection, Still Life with City, is forthcoming from Pski’s Porch. He lives in Italy.