Music that moved men like the man
forever breaking my mother's heart
never filled our second-floor rooms,
up through whose linoleum gloss
rose our neighbor super’s beats
that made his small bashful wife
thicken makeup under one eye.
Music juicing baptisms, birthdays,
forests of enchanted rhythmic trunks,
where once a long kitchen knife
kindled an otherwise decent man’s
liquored-up madness or jealousy,
propelling mother, sister and me
down zigzag stairs, hating our kind.
Music my mother had no body for
swayed her world unwished for me
but already sown, already betraying,
corrupting her son, a dancing man
grown to learn our music as music
and we fish in working-class water,
violent our way of being imperfect.
Remembering Old Subways
Arctic our elevated station
where soot-black iron cars
never delivered soon enough
heated bouncy reed seats,
thrones for my sister and me
as Mami rode gripping a strap,
on tortuous weekend rides
to closest, far-flung relations.
Our ill-adjusted Nueva York lives
stitched by tunnels of musings,
suspended when we got there,
resumed on night trains back,
my head drooped on Mercy’s lap,
runway to my constant flight
only to awake on coldest tracks
of distances still taking us.
Coney Island Myopia, 1956
Under blue sky’s chalk dust,
my near-sight dulls the beads
of water on my sister’s back.
Far off, only specks glide up,
parachute down a hazy tower,
high lord over congested shore,
huge canvas of flesh strokes
under color-blot umbrellas.
Tia’s voice tugs us to return,
for chicken, from the ocean’s
endless rock of fathoms
I was swimming to origins.
Visiting the Americano
His restored house lectures us
on his adopted New England,
refurbished antique furniture,
Quaker cans atop an ice box,
varnished stairs creaking steps
still descended by liar Puritans.
Everything he learned to want
from Anglo-Saxon blueprints
he broadcasts in drying white,
this applied American prestige
coating an implied inferior past.
He calls the paint “a better life,”
ironic code in a trace of accent
despite his Queens upbringing,
blue eyes boasting possibilities,
suggesting unlike pitiably me,
whose black eyes must keep up
their dumb grudge with ghosts.
Angelo, Three Weeks Before
Only forty percent heart
pumped out his final days,
a condition beyond repair
not like this remodeled house
worthy of these fine plates
and the gold-rimmed goblet
he now raises to his family,
his pose perfect to frame
in polished cherrywood
like the black and white photo
that embalms on his wall
his youth in a tailed tuxedo
lifting a glass to his bride,
vigorous his migrant heart
primed to want the children
whose children he now toasted
on this Sunday of God's grace
in August's last declining sun,
as cruel, indifferent thunder
drowns out his sincerity.
Julio Marzán is a poet with selections in numerous college texts, among them Reading to Go, Latino Boom, Literature: Reading to Write, and the past eight editions of the best-selling text in the country, The Bedford Introduction to Literature. His poems have also appeared in New Letters, New York Review, West Texas Review, Parnassus, Ploughshares, Tin House, 3 Quarks Daily, Prairie Schooner, and Harper’s Magazine, among others. From 2004-2007 he was poet laureate of Queens, N.Y. www.juliomarzan.net