Ode to Newspapers Big as Pizza Boxes
You can’t any longer whether by whim or design
buy The Village Voice on the way to or from
Fairway or Manny’s or the Red Apple whose aisles
accommodate but one of the tiny carts though pushy
babushkas keep doubting it. A friend’s father each night
read the New York Times’ every squib. He’d already died,
so I couldn’t have the conversation the friend swore
I’d have loved & that’s forty years ago already.
Like all of us then, Mr. Walker lived near enough
the Palace Depression to see moonlight glint
off the shattered blue glass in the walls. I still don’t know
whether that really was Roy Wilson chatting up
a woman in a yellow slicker outside a Korean market
as damp winter light wavered in the wind up Broadway.
Why do Koreans run so many markets there? A question
for Spike Lee’s orbiting lens to ponder. In Leesburg,
The Times came rolled in the mailbox two days late.
At our house, the Antigo Daily Journal spoke of lumber
& snow. Oh, look: Hilda married Albert & Eastern Star
enjoyed its biggest installation yet. Lest you wonder,
I’d love to hear my mother butcher one more polka
on the Lowrey under the cuckoo clock. From the best
bench in Riverside Park, a block downhill from Grant’s Tomb,
you can’t see the Hudson when the trees leaf out,
but you can smell the big water whose barges & tugs
the city’s monumental hush muffles enough I can sit
enormously alone & sip coffee hot & silken. In winter,
wide, glittery water through confused trunks & branches,
not to mention the Palisades. From the tin-can & shattered
concrete threshold of The Palace Depression, you can’t see
the harbor where the Greenwich Tea Party lit the fuse
of revolution, but you can smell it now & then
when the tide’s low, even in November, no matter
what you want or where you think you belong.
Was the soup you made the Monastery Lentil I found
in Diet for a Small Planet & cooked hundreds of times
till the browned paperback fell behind the prefab hutch
I threw together in the cellophane-wrapped world
where my son’s colic sealed me? No matter how simple,
I can’t remember recipes. I don’t have to remember
letters because I have & always will have yours though “always”
staggers beneath a crumbling load of mortal irony.
Rereading after decades, I see you “fixed” food. I felt glad Doug
scored the lighting gig, Shelly found a home at Evergreen,
Ted hitched up from Portland & the whole house switched
to brown sugar. Pages crisped brown, cards you hoped
didn’t annoy me (cartoon woman in windowpane glasses,
peasant skirt & disco scarves), the feathers & tiny shells
down to grainy wisps—what to make, what to fix of all this?
The words, dear, the words you lavished on me, the interior
murk through which I read & read them! Olympia is astounding.
The miserable month I spent there in yet another muffled
year did feature surf & basalt, or was that somewhere else?
All the new friends loved the soup. You still loved me
& always would. I’m sorry you never crewed on that freighter.
When Tom said “lentils,” he not only didn’t swallow the “t,”
the tip of his tongue drummed it. For two weeks, he, Robert & I
lived on lentils, apples & Our Bread. Tom came to hate
“Tom,” so he became “Thomas.” Esther & Easter had disappeared.
Juanita, too. All I’d have to say is “Coal Hill” & you’d know
what I mean, or so a poem like this—chalky shard off the house-high
drift of the oyster shells I shovel on ghosts—has to hope.
Assateague-hot the first week, but the morning the weather broke,
Grant pulled up, Tom & Robert off driving their tofu route,
me trimming the yarrow I’d picked in the birch grove. We hiked up
the Falling Waters Trail to the summit, ate oranges shirtless,
swore we could see all the way to Maine, trotted down to meet Lexi
at Oliver’s for chili. Our Oliver’s. Our fight over Sambo’s.
Our blue linoleum, ancient Frigidaire, huge toilet-tank bolted
to the ceiling. I love the this & that of letters, not gone
till I am & maybe not even then.
John Repp grew up along the Blackwater Branch of the Maurice River in southern New Jersey and has lived for many years in Erie, Pennsylvania. His most recent collections of poetry are the chapbooks Madeleine Wolfe—A Sequence (Seven Kitchens Press) and Cold-Running Current (Alice Greene & Co.), both published in 2019.